The full 30-minute attack ad called “When Mitt Romney Came to Town” is out, and it is really hardcore. Dolloped with a hint of xenophobia (Romney speaks French in the film twice), the film features the roadkill from the freight train of vulture capitalism, the workers who had the misfortune of getting caught up in a Bain Capital leveraged buyout. Romney is portrayed as such an unyielding greedhead that Gordon Gekko would blanch. This was created – in part by a former Romney advisor – independent of any Newt Gingrich campaign, and his SuperPAC just purchased it about a week or so ago. But you’d think the media arm of the Occupy movement was responsible.

Apparently the full ad will hit the airwaves today, and there are sure to be 30- and 60-second versions. But it’s already done its damage. Romney is losing his advantage in South Carolina to Gingrich, with a virtual dead heat now picked up by one poll. In trying to explain away the ad, Romney accused those who harp on inequality as motivated primarily by envy (telling the 99% that they’re just jealous isn’t the best electoral strategy) and adding that we should only talk about inequality in “quiet rooms”:

LAUER: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?

ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally.

Romney’s apparently preparing a counter-attack. I hope he does better with it than he did with Matt Lauer.

To be clear, Romney has material to work with, especially with respect to his Republican rivals. Newt Gingrich, of course, worked for a storied private equity firm at one time. And the conservative movement is leaping to his aid, positing the Bain attacks as an attack on capitalism. But that’s really the whole problem for Romney. His brand of vulture capitalism mirrors precisely the conservative worldview on “free markets.” Those workers aren’t entitled to a life of “luxury,” luxury defined as the ability to get by on hard work. The economy has winners and losers, and those layoff victims just have to get better skills. The job creators will take care of them if they can just get their taxes low.

Newt Gingrich has really opened a Pandora’s box here. Conservatives have been allowed to skate by with their Randian worship of Wall Street titans for a long time. Gingrich is appealing to a white working class voter that, in the South at least, votes Republican. And he’s doing it with an economic populist message, at least as far as he has pointed his attack at Romney. All the polls show that the public has an intuitive revulsion to the style of capitalism that has been practiced in this country for the past thirty years. Gingrich, by using that intuition to attack Romney, is also putting his entire party’s economic message on trial.