Nightly News   |  January 12, 2012

Republican attacks intensify on the trail

The sniping continues as Newt Gingrich defends his attacks on Mitt Romney. NBC’s Ron Mott has more.

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>>> on the campaign trail, the extraordinary battle over mitt romney 's tenure of the private equity firm bain capital continues. ron mott is with us from columbia, south carolina , tonight. good evening.

>> reporter: hey, brian, good evening to you. political push came to shove today here in south carolina about what many considered to be mitt romney 's achilles' heel, whether he put profits ahead of people when he ran a powerful capital venture firm. the sniping as ceo of bain capital .

>> when mitt romney came to town.

>> reporter: dramatized in a 27-minute documentary and tv ads, as well as by two opponents, sparked an intense fire fight within the republican party , with one candidate effectively declaring a cease-fire, while another stays on the offensive against the front-runner.

>> are you attacking bain or asking questions?

>> i'm asking questions. i'm shocked how defensive they are.

>> reporter: today former speaker newt gingrich didn't retreat, expressing surprise at the criticism aimed at him for questioning one of his party's position pro-capitalism.

>> there is counterpressure among the elite about raising questions. the american people have the right to know, and people who run for high office have an obligation to be transparent.

>> the vulture capitalists.

>> reporter: texas governor rick perry who designed bain as vulture capitalists dropped the term from his speeches.

>> free market capitalism in the state of texas has created over a million jobs. we understand how capitalism needs to work.

>> reporter: as the race moved to south carolina this week, whispers about romney's business past became full-blown attacks.

>> newt and perry blew it.

>> reporter: prompting prominent conservative voices from rush limbaugh to donors to push back hard.

>> i think any time a job is lost is a tragedy, for the family, for the individual that loses the job it's devastating.

>> reporter: jon huntsman and rick santorum were critical about dismissals about bain . huntsman went a step further with romney's pink slip comment.

>> when you have a candidate who talks about his enjoyment of firing people. who talks about pink slips . makes comments that seem to be so detached from the problems that americans are facing today, that makes you pretty much unelectable.

>> reporter: when confronted today by radio talk show host laura engram, rick perry said if this is a fatal flaw it's better to talk about it in january when he is the candidate than in september when he could be the nominee against president obama .

>> ron mott in south carolina ,