Romney's Granite State firewall is looking dangerously weak. "If Romney loses New Hampshire," writes longtime election analyst (and George W. Bush cousin) John Ellis, "the Romney campaign collapses in a heap."
So on Thursday the Romney campaign arranged a conference call in which former New Hampshire Governor and White House Chief of Staff John Sununu and former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent excoriated Gingrich. He "is not a reliable and trusted leader," Talent said.
And the Romney campaign has put out a 60-second spot labeled "With Friends like Newt," attacking Gingrich for referring to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's Medicare plan as "right-wing social engineering."
"It's a character problem," the spot shows Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer saying of Gingrich. "He doesn't have the discipline you need in a president."
For the moment, at least none of the other candidates seems to be piling on Romney for going negative. On the contrary. Ron Paul, tied for second with Romney in Iowa polls, has a tough anti-Gingrich spot himself. Michele Bachmann, who once was leading Iowa polls, has been charging that Gingrich is not a real conservative.
The Romney campaign is presumably betting that Paul and Bachmann will pummel Gingrich in the hope of winning Iowa. They undoubtedly calculate that there is a ceiling on their support and would prefer having either of them rather than Gingrich coming out of Iowa with momentum as Romney's most visible opponent.
The obvious dynamic in the Republican race this year is that many voters, particularly those who identify with the tea party movement, are casting about for an alternative to Romney. At the moment they're delighted at the prospect of Gingrich debating Obama.
Romney's negative attacks are an attempt to get them to focus on the qualms many former Gingrich colleagues have about him. It's a risky move, but probably not as risky as Obama's.