(Good analysis. My guess is that Romney will manage to eke out a victory in Florida based on his head start and money advantage in the Sunshine State, combined with his more aggressive attacks against Gingrich. If Gingrich does win Florida, I wonder if there will be increasing calls among Republicans for a white knight to ride in and save the party from disaster. Stay tuned… – promoted by lowkell)
Mitt Romney was unable to score a decisive blow against a sedate, subdued Newt Gingrich in yesterday’s Florida GOP primary debate. As a result, the affair was largely a snoozer that will not substantially impact the contest in Florida.
Romney took a hatchet to Gingrich, calling him a Washington influence peddler and a disgraced politician abandoned by his own party.
Romney needed to cut Gingrich down to size, and quickly. Buoyed by the momentum of his win on Saturday, Gingrich is up by five points in Florida. He has opened up a small enthusiasm gap, and pulled even with Romney on his most important selling point: electability.
Given Gingrich’s elephantine personal baggage and numberless ideological apostasies, it should be easy for Romney to paint the former speaker as an erratic, unelectable, egotistical flip-flopper.
But on the stage last night, Gingrich was muted and calm, while Romney proved a hollow messenger for the kind of angry rhetoric he sought to channel. To be sure, he arrived well prepared: he was finally able to talk about his tax returns without stammering, and has clearly memorized the opposition research book on Gingrich. But his anger seemed stilted and Gingrich’s calm manner blunted his attacks. After spending the first half hour of the debate reciting the litany of Gingrich’s sins against conservatism, Romney failed to goad the usually quick-tempered former speaker into tipping his hand.
Gingrich stayed above the fray and played the role of aloof front-runner mightily. He resisted Romney’s every attempt to bait him, and dodged Brian Williams’ attempts to provoke a tussle.
By Thursday, pollsters will be able to tell us if Gingrich’s strategy worked. Until then, here’s my uncertainty: in South Carolina, Gingrich touched the raw nerve of conservative anger – catapulting himself upward in the polls and masking his flaws. Will his new, subdued front-runner’s pose disappoint those who like his combative style? Will it allow Romney an opening to expose his flaws?
Romney can’t risk waiting and watching – which risks developing a reputation as a paper-thin candidate, a man with the world’s best resume but wooden people skills. There’s another debate on Thursday. Romney has 48 hours to soften Gingrich up before then, and he’s got just the weapon to do it: negative ads.
You know, moments like these make me wish the primary were coming to Virginia.