Boston Daily to Mitt: Duck!

1199293492Be very, very quiet. They’re hunting Romney.

With the Iowa caucuses just a day away, and the New Hampshire primary looming shortly thereafter, the Republicans have begun attacking their own in earnest. The main target is Mitt Romney, who — depending on which poll you believe — is fighting serious battles in both states right now. In Iowa, his chief opponent is former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, while in New Hampshire he’s pitted against Arizona Sen. John McCain.

And right now, neither foe is playing nice.

Let’s start with Huckabee, whose aw-shucks, I’m-just-a-good-‘ol-Christian facade is starting to become awfully transparent (as opposed to Mitt’s I’ll-say-anything-you-want-to-hear-to-win approach, which has been transparent for years). According to the New York Times, Huckabee got into bed (figuratively) with a hard-nosed political consultant named Ed Rollins who urged Huckabee to film an unvarnished Romney attack ad. At first Huckabee resisted, then finally agreed to go forward with it.

And that’s when things got weird and ridiculous. Rather than release the commercial, Huckabee held a press conference. He told the gathering that he had changed his mind, and that he wouldn’t be running the ad after all. Then, in a twist that’s either shamelessly slimy or just plain stupid, he screened the commercial for the media.

He pledged at a news conference that he would stop going after Mr. Romney, but — to the incredulous guffaws of a roomful of reporters, convinced Mr. Huckabee wanted it both ways — he nonetheless screened the attack commercial before live television cameras to prove that it existed. “If you gain the whole world but lose your own soul, what does it profit you?” he said, quoting the Bible to explain his last-minute decision to reverse himself again.

It was so brazen, so patently absurd, it defied belief. I’m not going to run the ad, but I’ll show it to all the national media outlets assembled here so you can do my dirty work for me. Then I’ll quote the bible.

That sound you hear is Baby Jesus crying, governor.

On to Sen. McCain, who also took a cowardly approach to attacking Romney. Shortly after former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, every candidate on the campaign trail began uttering a version of “I knew Bhutto/I know Pakistan/I know the region/I can find it on the map quicker than my opponents.” And so on.

It’s politics 101, and right now the only test any of them are being asked to pass is the same one that’s dominated our conversations for the past six and a half years: Can you keep us safe from radical terrorists, and what would you do about the Middle East?

To that end, McCain — who according to a new poll now leads Romney in New Hampshire — decided to put together a Romney attack ad of his own. And like Huckabee, McCain wanted to have it both ways, releasing the ad yesterday, but as a web-only video. You can watch the commercial here.

The abridged version of the spot, titled “Experience”: Arabic writing scrawls across the screen, a bomb goes off, and carnage is shown. Then the video cuts to an image of Romney, as the narrator says “Mitt Romney says the next president doesn’t need foreign policy experience.”

It’s an incredibly powerful ad that reaches right for Romney’s throat. But instead of coming at Romney head on, McCain chose to attack from the shadows, releasing the video online on New Year’s Day when few people were looking. It’s a little like a boxer who punches his opponent in the kidneys when the ref is distracted — sort of a it’s-not-dirty-if-I-do-it-on-the-sly tactic.

Of course, none of this is surprising. When you’re running for president, there are no rules, and the winner is the guy who takes the least amount of damage. And since we’ve beaten up Romney a lot on this site, we’ll say this: If he can get can get up from these blows and somehow win Iowa or New Hampshire, or both, he’s tougher than we thought.

We wouldn’t bet on it, though.