It’s been months since Newt Gingrich’s “right-wing social engineering” controversy died down, but he’s back to clashing with Rep. Paul Ryan once again. The trouble started when Gingrich made the following comments on Coffee & Markets last week, while discussing Medicare reform:

If there’s a program that is very, very unpopular, should Republicans impose it? And my answer’s no. Reagan ran to be a popular president, not to maximize suicide. I think conservatives have got to understand, you govern over the long run by having the American people think you’re doing a good job and think you’re doing what they want. Now the question is, how do you have creative leadership that achieves the right values in a popular way?

In an interview with NRO’s Bob Costa today, Ryan responded with a scathing attack on Gingrich’s leadership:

“This is not the 1990s,” Ryan says. “The ‘Mediscare’ is not working and we should not back down from this fight. …

“Leaders don’t follow the polls, leaders change the polls,” Ryan says.…

Ryan adds that he is still undecided about whether he will endorse a candidate. But his message to Gingrich and the rest of the field is clear. “Leaders need to go out and change things, speaking to people as adults,” he says. “We should not shy away from this fight, even though we know the Democrats will demagogue us.”

Few would dispute Gingrich’s general point that it’s wrong to impose policies the vast majority of the public opposes. But if the reason they’re unpopular is because of baseless liberal scare tactics, then politicians can’t shy away from making the case. Instead of doing that, Gingrich is basically ceding the game to the other team. It shows that, in Gingrich’s mind, holding onto power trumps real reform. And it also reveals a condescending attitude toward the general public.

Ryan’s criticism of Gingrich will likely draw blood, especially if this Evolving Strategies study is any indication. According to the poll, Gingrich is extremely susceptible to negative attacks on his conservative credentials:

Gingrich’s support is “decimated” when voters are exposed to just one negative ad, said polling firm Evolving Strategies.

“The percentage of respondents picking Gingrich as their first choice in the primary falls more than 15 points, from 42 to 26 percent,” they said.

In Romney’s case, negative and positive ads shown to voters seem to move the needle very little. The pollsters say that voter’s views of Romney are “priced in,” thus negative ads don’t sting as much for him as they do Gingrich, the newest Republican to challenge Romney for the nomination.

Gingrich recently pledged to avoid using negative attacks on his opponents, which means he’s pretty much locked into that promise. But if Gingrich hoped that would force Romney to also denounce negative advertising, he was sadly mistaken. Romney released yet another brutal ad against the former Speaker today, and this one features a quote at the end from Paul Ryan. It shouldn’t be long before Ryan’s latest comments about Gingrich’s leadership pop up in another attack video.

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