Gingrich aide a force behind controversial ad

February 8, 2012

COLUMBIA, South Carolina | Fri Jan 13, 2012 7:08pm EST

(Reuters) – In a Republican presidential campaign dominated by attack ads, no ad has been more controversial: a 28-minute film that claims Mitt Romney “looted” companies and destroyed jobs during his time at a private equity firm.

And behind the scenes, no one has been more responsible for pushing the film — or its anti-Romney theme — than Rick Tyler.

Tyler is a senior adviser to Winning Our Future, the “super” political action committee (PAC) that recently obtained the scathing documentary on former Massachusetts governor Romney’s business career that has been the talk of the campaign.

The film, dubbed “King of Bain” and focusing on Romney’s work at Bain Capital, meshed with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s attacks on Romney as a “job killer” who represented a cruel side of capitalism.

Such criticism angered some leaders of the business-friendly Republican Party, who said Gingrich’s attacks amounted to an assault on capitalism and could help Democrats cast Romney as an enemy of the middle class, assuming Romney wins the nomination.

Then on Thursday, The Washington Post published a scathing critique of the anti-Romney film, saying it misrepresented his record in several instances.

Gingrich appeared to buckle to such pressure at least a little on Friday, calling on Winning Our Future – which operates separately from his campaign and can receive unlimited donations – to correct the film or stop running it on TV and the Internet.

For Tyler, it was the latest turn in what has been a tumultuous year of devotion, abandonment and reunification with Gingrich’s effort to win the Republican nomination.

Tyler was among several top aides to Gingrich who quit his campaign six months ago, complaining that the candidate seemed unfocused and unwilling to put in the effort necessary to win.

For Tyler, who had worked alongside Gingrich for a decade as the former House speaker founded a series of for-profit companies, it was a wrenching decision to leave.

“We had all this negative press,” Tyler said Friday. “We weren’t even going to get out of the starting gate.

“We were behind the eight ball in fundraising. Newt had a long-term perspective. I had assumed we were dead. That turned out not to be true.”

Once a state director for the Republican Party in Maine, Tyler went to work for Gingrich in 1999, after he had left Congress. For much of the last 10 years, Tyler has spoken on behalf of Gingrich.

Throughout that time, Tyler said, Gingrich has remained a voice of what Tyler calls true conservatism.

“I asked to go work for him when he left the House,” Tyler said. “I thought, this is not done.”

THE RANT OF THE CAMPAIGN?

During his years beside Gingrich, Tyler honed his aggressive rhetoric, matching Gingrich’s bold style in defending his boss and pushing conservative doctrine.

That grandiosity provided what still might be the most over-the-top statement of the current campaign.

In mid-May, Gingrich annoyed some Republican leaders by blasting a proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan to overhaul Medicare, calling it “right-wing social engineering.”

On May 18, as Gingrich faced criticism from Republicans in Washington, Tyler unleashed his frustration on reporters.

“The literati sent out their minions to do their bidding,” Tyler wrote The Huffington Post.

“Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders who might disrupt their comfortable world. The firefight started when the cowardly sensed weakness. They fired timidly at first, then the sheep not wanting to be dropped from the establishment’s cocktail party invite list unloaded their entire clip, firing without taking aim their distortions and falsehoods.

“Now they are left exposed by their bylines and handles.”

“But surely they had killed him off,” Tyler continued. “This is the way it always worked. A lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the onslaught.

“But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won’t be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.”

Later, Tyler would admit he had too much coffee that day. Actor John Lithgow went on “The Colbert Report” to give a dramatic reading of Tyler’s e-mail flaming.

Peter Wehner, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, said Tyler’s missive “has the makings of an epic, world-historic, never-before-seen clash. But it also has the makings of a failed presidential bid.”

Tyler apparently agreed. He quit the campaign three weeks later. With their boss off on a summer holiday in the Greek isles, Tyler and other staffers ditched Gingrich, complaining he wasn’t focused on the campaign.

But Gingrich, surrounded by a tiny campaign staff and his wife, Callista, pressed on.

By early December, Gingrich had emerged as a contender in the race, boosted primarily by good performances in televised debates. Tyler publicly apologized for bailing on his boss.

“Newt, if I let you down, I’m sorry,” he told NPR.

A week later, Winning Our Future was established by veteran fundraiser Becky Burkett to help Gingrich’s campaign. It joined a growing list of independent “super PACs” raising millions of dollars to support campaigns.

Tyler jumped on board.

Katon Dawson, a South Carolina Republican who left Gingrich’s campaign for Texas Governor Rick Perry’s last summer, said Tyler’s return to help Gingrich wasn’t surprising.

“He went back home,” she said.

CRITICISM FROM THE RIGHT

This month, Winning Our Future acquired the 28-minute attack film on Romney, which was produced by Barry Bennett, a former consultant to a PAC that supports Perry.

PACs backing Perry and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman had decided against buying the documentary.

Tyler promoted the film to TV and radio stations, accusing Romney of shipping American manufacturing jobs overseas during his time as head of Bain Capital.

Even as some of Romney’s other rivals picked up the theme, some Republican officials and supporters were furious.

CNBC’s Larry Kudlow accused Tyler of aiding Democratic President Barack Obama.

“C’mon Rick, I’ve known you a while. This is left-wing stuff. This is Obama stuff. This is class warfare stuff. And to be perfectly candid, it’s cheap-shot stuff,” Kudlow said Monday.

The conservative National Review said “Newt has a peculiar gift for crafting attacks that will do maximum damage to conservatives generally,” adding that Gingrich was “making himself radioactive” in the race to challenge Obama in November.

Tyler brushed aside the criticism.

“I knew our PAC was powerful,” he said. “But I didn’t think … that we were going to undermine capitalism.”

(Editing by David Lindsey and Todd Eastham)

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    "Sam is a Reuters correspondent covering the 2012 campaign. Previously, he was an associate editor at Newsweek and a staff reporter for The Daily Beast. His writing has also appeared in The Boston Globe and The New York Observer."
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