Karl Rove thinks Mitt Romney probably should have begun attacks on Newt Gingrich much earlier in the presidential campaign, he told me on Good Morning America. But Rove is not convinced that a drawn out primary will hurt Republicans and he said a fight for their nomination could create a better nominee to face President Obama.
Rove said he is not very impressed with the attacks that Romney has launched so far. Today he described them as "flailing" so far.
"The rise of Gingrich in the polls has caused the Romney people to reconsider their campaign strategy. My suspicion is they're all looking at themselves saying why didn't we start this weeks ago?" Rove said this morning.
"Yesterday I think the attack was sort of flailing. lets see if the Romney campaign gets a little more focused," he said.
Gingrich surged to the front of polls in the Republican presidential early this week and now Mitt Romney has launched a barrage of attacks against the former House Speaker, including the use of television ads pointing to Gingrich's previous criticism of House Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to drastically retool Medicare. Surrogates for Romney have criticized Gingrich as "self-serving" and guilty of "irrational behavior".
But at this point, one day before ABC's Iowa debate, which will air Saturday at 9 p.m. on the TV network, and less than a month before the Iowa Caucus, Rove said it may be too late for Romney to effectively undercut Gingrich.
"Remember we have 25 days until they start voting in Iowa and we probably have only two effective weeks of campaigning before we get into the Christmas holidays and its sort of hard during the period of December 22nd thru January first or second to really do things in a traditional way in a campaign when you got everybody worried about Christmas presents and holiday parties and family visiting," he said.
Rove said Romney must hone the attacks if they are to ultimately be effective.
"You've done a better job frankly of summarizing their attack than (the Romney campaign) did yesterday. So that's the first thing is that you have to distill the two thingst hey said yesterday into what you said," said Rove, referring to a Jake Tapper's GMA report on Romney's attacks.
Gingrich's strategy of staying above the fray and not responding to the attacks, according to Rove is the right one.
"He's going to be on the receiving end of blows not only from Romney, but also from Paul and Bachmann and Santorum and Perry," said Rove. "I thought yesterday it was a good opening response to say I'm going to stay above it and I've got one opponent, his name is Obama."
"Whether (Gingrich) can sustain it, though, is going to depend on the chemistry of those debates, the kinds of questions and the kinds of answers that are offered. that's what makes it so unpredictable," said Rove.
Will a drawn-out Republican primary lead to a damaged candidate and a better chance for President Obama to win reelection? Rove said no. And for evidence he pointed to the drawn-out primary fight between then-Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton.
"I remember in 2008 saying to myself this long drawn-out contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is going leave the Democrats bled white and hurting," he said. " And it turned out to actually have helped them enormously; registration totals went way up in battleground states, they built large armies of volunteers, they crystallized the message, people took the candidates and concluded they were up to the job and they came barreling out of that contest as you recall, which took all the way 'til June, they came barreling out of that contest. I suspect the same thing is going to happen on the Republican side."
Rove pointed to contentious Republican debates, which have been occuring since June, and which he said have coincided with President Obama's slide in the polls like a daily tracking survey taken by Gallup, which asks voters if they support President Obama or a general Republican.
"Since early July, after the beginning of the debates in late June, Obama has been tied or behind or dead even with the republican virtually all of the time," said Rove.