With Newt Gingrich now surging in the polls, the first Republican presidential candidate to attack him in a paid TV ad isn’t Mitt Romney. Or Rick Perry. Or Michele Bachmann.
Instead, it’s Ron Paul.
The Texas congressman has emerged, arguably, as Gingrich’s most vocal critic -- at least for now -- cutting a web video from last week that was scathingly critical of the former Speaker into a 60-second TV spot for air in Iowa.
"We wanted to ensure this ad reached as many voters as possible, to debunk the myth that the Newt we are seeing on the 2012 campaign trail is the conservative he has been touted to be all along," Paul campaign manager Jesse Benton said in a statement.
The ad casts Gingrich as inauthentic and hypocritical on issues like bailouts and health care, and fueled by his lucrative work as a political advocate after leaving Congress.
It's a line of attack that political observers have more likely expected to come from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose campaign has been forced to reckon with the Gingrich surge in the closing weeks before Iowa's Jan. 3 caucuses.
But Paul has been especially dogged in his criticism of Gingrich, attacks that may well be serving Romney's needs just as much as Paul's.
"I think that he's getting a free ride. And I've worked with him for a long time. And I think the points I made on the various issues, he's a flip-flopper, so he can hardly be the alternative to Mitt Romney," Paul said last week in New Hampshire.
The libertarian-minded congressman has staked much of his political capital in Iowa, where he made a major push in August's Ames Straw Poll, and finished a close second place. He's peppered the state's airwaves, and emphasized his opposition to abortion rights for the socially conservative caucus-goers in the state.
Romney's campaign had been skittish about making a push in Iowa until recently, when it opened campaign headquarters in the state and launched a round of TV advertisements. Their bet appears to be that, in a splintered primary field, Romney could score well enough in Iowa to win or at least place highly, and carry that momentum into New Hampshire, where he leads in the polls.
But, given Paul's new attacks on Gingrich, it may just end up being the case that, if Romney wins the nomination, he may have Paul to thank.
Romney's leveled some mild criticism of Gingrich, calling him a "lifelong politician," but has otherwise stayed focused on President Obama. He might not have to release that focus on Obama as long as Paul does Romney's dirty work for him; it seems like a classic case where, for Romney, the enemy of his enemy is his friend.
It's not that Romney has escaped criticism from Paul; an ad from the libertarian congressman's campaign last month pilloried Romney along with Herman Cain and Rick Perry. But Paul's campaign has, more often than not, trained its focus on the rotation of candidates who have surged to become the leading alternative to Romney.
But as the candidates approach the home stretch of the campaign, the beneficiary of Paul's focus on Gingrich may just be Romney's campaign, which might be spared from having to go intensely negative against Gingrich.