There’s no great mystery as to why Newt Gingrich’s support collapsed in Iowa: Mitt Romney and his friends spent nearly $4 million in three weeks to tear Gingrich apart.

But before the disgraced former House Speaker began calling Romney a “liar,” he used a different word to describe his recent experiences: Gingrich said Sunday he felt “Romney-boated” by the attacks. The reference, obviously, referenced the loathsome Swift Boat ads run and financed by Bush/Cheney allies in 2004, casting doubts on John Kerry’s heroic military service.

It was a fascinating choice of words for Gingrich. As Eric Boehlert explained this morning, “Newt Gingrich, a leader of the modern-day conservative movement, presidential candidate, and proud Republican partisan adopting language that acknowledged the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are synonymous with unsubstantiated campaign attack ads. With his ‘Romney-boated’ comment, the former Republican Speaker of the House reinforced what progressives have been saying for years.”

Quite right. And as it turns out, some of the Swift Boat liars aren’t happy about it.

John O’Neill, the swift-boat captain who led the anti-Kerry movement, is none too pleased with the comparison. “To me, it reflects Gingrich’s very cynical hypocrisy, which he shares with Kerry,” O’Neill tells National Review Online.

O’Neill proceeded to elaborate on his disdain for Gingrich, but the larger point is unavoidable: the Swift Boat liars lied about a war hero, they got caught, and their legacy is a standard for vicious campaign smears.

O’Neill may not like the comparison, but when the attack fits….

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.