COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Key Mitt Romney surrogate Chris Christie, stepping into the charred aftermath of Romney's 12-point loss in the South Carolina primary last night, lit into Newt Gingrich on NBC's "Meet The Press" before he was even asked a set-up question.
Christie appeared on the program right after Gingrich, and he seized on the characterization Gingrich had just made about his position as a "strategic advisor" with mortgage giant Freddie Mac, in which he earned $1.6 million.
"Strategic advisor? That is the oldest Washington dodge in the book. That's because he didn't want to register as a lobbyist...First he said he was a historian, now he says he was a strategic advisor...he was using his influence that he obtained in public office to try to help get paid $1.6 million."
Christie said Gingrich's biggest weakness is that he's a legislator, and has never brought "people together to use executive power."
He added: "I think Newt Gingrich has embarrassed the party over time. Whether he'll do it again in the future I don't know, but Gov. Romney never has...he was run out of the speakership by his own party, he was fined $300,000 for ethics violation...I'm not saying he will do it again in the future, but sometimes past is prologue."
Christie said Romney's new announcement that he will release his tax returns is a good thing, even though President Obama's people will pick it apart and turn it into a negative.
"What the American people are going to see is someone who has been extraordinarily successful in life. I don’t think Americans want a failure as president," he said.
In a possible preview of a more populist-friendly message we could hear Romney adopt, Christie referenced two companies, Staples and Sports Authority, that are said to have added jobs after consultation by Romney's Bain Capital.
"Anyone who goes to work at those places today has Mitt Romney to thank for it, and he's going to know how to do that as president, to get government out of the way...If you're working at Sports Authority and Staples today, those aren't the elite, those are middle-class Americans who are using those jobs to put food on the table, roofs over their heads and pay for college. Let the president attack that."
Christie was also asked the obligatory vice president question: "If I'm approached I will listen, but my inclination, I want to make it very clear, is that I want to stay governor of New Jersey."
Last night, New Jersey Democratic Chairman John Wisniewski entered the presidential campaign fray with a statement linking Christie's income tax cut plan with Romney's lost last night:
"Like Chris Christie, who wants to cut taxes that unfairly benefit the wealthiest Americans, it appears South Carolina Republican voters rejected Mitt Romney, the candidate that refuses to release his tax returns and, by his own admission, pays somewhere ‘around a 15% tax rate’, significantly less than most middle class Americans."