Last Updated 9:07 a.m. ET
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose support in Iowa has withered after riding on top of the polls, on Tuesday called former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney a liar who would mislead the American people if elected to the White House - but added that he would still vote for him if Romney won the GOP nomination.
On CBS' "The Early Show" this morning, CBS News chief White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell asked Gingrich about comments he had previously made about his chief rival and the Super PAC whose negative campaign ads have hurt his campaign: "You scolded Mitt Romney, his friends who are running this Super PAC that has funded that, and you said of Mitt Romney, 'Someone who will lie to you to get to be president will lie to you when they are president. I have to ask you, are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?"
"Yes," Gingrich replied.
"You're calling Mitt Romney a liar?"
"Well, you seem shocked by it!" said Gingrich. "This is a man whose staff created the PAC, his millionaire friends fund the PAC, he pretends he has nothing to do with the PAC - it's baloney. He's not telling the American people the truth.
"It's just like this pretense that he's a conservative. Here's a Massachusetts moderate who has tax-paid abortions in 'Romneycare,' puts Planned Parenthood in 'Romneycare,' raises hundreds of millions of dollars of taxes on businesses, appoints liberal judges to appease Democrats, and wants the rest of us to believe somehow he's magically a conservative.
"I just think he ought to be honest with the American people and try to win as the real Mitt Romney, not try to invent a poll-driven, consultant-guided version that goes around with talking points, and I think he ought to be candid. I don't think he's being candid and that will be a major issue. From here on out from the rest of this campaign, the country has to decide: Do you really want a Massachusetts moderate who won't level with you to run against Barack Obama who, frankly, will just tear him apart? He will not survive against the Obama machine."
Yet, when pressed by CBS News' chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer on whether he could support Romney if the "Massachusetts moderate" became the Republican nominee, Gingrich replied, "Sure. I would support a Republican candidate against Barack Obama because I think Barack Obama is tearing the country apart.
"But, let's be clear," added Gingrich. "Which part of what I just said to you is false? Why is it that if I'm candid in person and I wanted to be honest in person, that's shocking? If [Romney's] PAC buys millions of dollars in ads to say things that are false, that's somehow the way Washington plays the game. Isn't that exactly what's sick about this country right now? Isn't that what the American people are tired of?"
"But Mr. Speaker, what you're saying is 'Folks, Barack Obama is so bad that we'd be better off electing a bald-faced liar to the presidency, somebody that we would never know if he was telling the truth.' That is pretty strong stuff," said Schieffer.
"Well, I'll let you go and check his record, Bob. Look, you're a professional reporter. Did he support Reagan in the '80s or not? The answer is no. Did he vote as a Democrat for Paul Tsongas in '92 or not? The answer is, yes, he did. Did he say that he didn't want to go back to the Reagan-Bush years in '94? Yes, he did. Did he run to the left of Teddy Kennedy? Yes he did. Now, why is it politically incorrect to tell the truth?
"You're saying in the traditional Washington pattern it's better to be sweet and honest and have this face of saying, 'Oh, gee, we want to be nice to each other no matter what happens to the American people.' I think the American people deserve the truth. I think the next couple of debates are going to be very interesting. I am prepared to defend every single thing I've said to you this morning. And candidly, I wish Mitt would just, you know, level with the American people, be who he really is, and let's have a debate about a Massachusetts moderate versus a real conservative."
Gingrich had recently been on top of the polls in Iowa, but has fallen in part due to a withering wave of attack ads from Super PACs. A Des Moines Register poll released this weekend put Gingrich in fourth behind Romney, Rep. Ron Paul, and a surging Rick Santorum, the former Senator from Pennsylvania.
Gingrich had even been taken to task by his own supporters after making public statements that he did not expect to win, blaming the attack ads: "That volume of negativity has done enough damage," he said yesterday.
When asked by O'Donnell on Tuesday, "You don't expect that you'll get first or second place, do you, Mr. Speaker?" Gingrich replied, "Actually, I don't think anybody knows who is going to get what right now."
Gingrich framed his response by reporting on the positive efforts of his supporters who expect to be victorious at tonight's caucuses, and told of focus groups that responded positively to his campaign's messages - and negatively against his opponents, primarily Ron Paul's attitude towards Iran's nuclear program. "You saw people moving, even people who were already committed," to support me, Gingrich said.
Pointing to the Des Moines Register poll which stated that 41 percent of voters were up for grabs," Gingrich said, "I think what you're seeing, and this has been our experience in all of our meetings over the last two - we have been in 24 towns by this afternoon when I go back to Waterloo - everywhere we go there are a large number of undecided people who walk in genuinely interested and tell you up front they haven't made their mind up. I think anybody could come in first."