To win the Republican nomination, both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich must atone for the same sin -- embodying the excesses of a decade past. But which one will win out? The 1980s or the 1990s? Gingrich has to deal with all the culture warring and political bomb-throwing he did in the 1990s, while Romney has hope people just get tired of seeing the 1984 picture of him with money hanging out of his suit, looking like an extra from American Psycho.

Jon Huntsman has made much of the above photo of Romney, taken in 1984 with his venture capital pals, and Gingrich has said Romney should give back the money he made "bankrupting companies and laying off employees." Both Republicans and Democrats think the most damaging line of attack against Romney is his days at Bain Capital, Talking Points Memo's Benjy Sarlin reports. Romney frequently made companies profitable again, but his company raked in millions of dollars in fees even when they went bankrupt. (In retrospect, he told the New York Times in 2007, "It is one thing that if I had a chance to go back I would be more sensitive to... Great care has got to be taken not to take a dividend or a distribution from a company that puts that company at risk." Taking money from a company that failed made him "sick, sick at heart.") Behind the scenes, Republicans opposed to Romney have long whispered that Bain is the candidate’s glass jaw, that it killed his Senate campaign in 1994, that he’s shown no sign he’s learned to handle the issue on a national stage because it’s not a big factor in the Republican primaries," Sarlin writes. Indeed, the first time the term "corporate raider" appeared in a story about Romney was September 24, 1994, in the Boston Globe. His opponent, Ted Kennedy, began airing TV ads saying Romney profited by laying off workers, and by October 8, the Globe was reporting that "Polls show the ads have been moderately successful for Kennedy." For the record, "corporate raider" is an '80s thing, as seen by Google's Ngram Viewer:

Gingrich, on the other hand, has given reporters a change to dive into the archives of the '90s. But the things that brought him to power in the '90s aren't working as well these days -- he's trying to counter the idea that he loves inflammatory soundbites (calling Democrats "shameless" "anti-flag" "anti-family" "radicals") , but Romney made a point of saying he's "not a bomb-thrower." He's still pushing the private-sector solutions to poverty that got him a lot of attention in his glory days, but even former fans of those policies are thinking twice. Gingrich's formerly conservative comrade, Arianna Huffington, for example, rose to political stardom as "Gingrich's muse," and in 1995 she said he should run for president "to challenge Americans to join in weaving a new and true safety net out of their own actions and compassion, to make a lasting difference in their own communities." Well he's doing it -- by calling for poor kids to work as janitors so they develop a "work ethic." For some reason, Huffington doesn't like it as much this time around. Politico's Kenneth P. Vogel and Dylan Byers call the falling out between Gingrich and Huffington "A '90s story." And the Weekly Standard's Andy Ferguson told Politico it in a way that recalls another thing Gingrich personified in the 90s: shamelessness. Ferguson explained, “We’re talking about two operators trying to use each other for the advancement of their respective careers... This talk about principles and ideals is all gloss over their efforts to get ahead.” 

And that's what bothers Gingrich's fellow Republican, Rep. Paul Ryan -- who coincidentally also thinks of himself as an ideas guy. “This is not the 1990s,” Ryan scolds Newt Gingrich for shameless pandering in an interview with the National Review's Robert Costa Wednesday. Ryan was responding to Gingrich's comment that Republicans shouldn't push reforms to entitlements that are "very, very unpopular" or offer proposals that "maximize suicide." Ryan disagreed, saying voters "don’t want to be pandered to like children." Gingrich himself, it seems, is a 90s thing: