If the main argument for Newt Gingrich to win the GOP nomination so that he could paste Obama in the Fall debates, last night's debate in Florida blew a big hole in that argument. Newt was whiny, poorly informed about his own finances, angry, and overall just off his game. Mitt Romney scored several body blows when he was able to retaliate against Gingrich when Newt charged him with investing in Fannie and Freddie and Romney was able to take advantage of his oppo research and tell Gingrich that he had also invested the same way. Better than that, Romney was able to make a forceful defense of his wealth and investments. Of course, any time that Romney is talking about his millions and blind trust, it's not the best, but at least Romney didn't seem apologetic of his wealth and was able to give an explanation of the importance of investors.
Romney also won the immigration debate. Newt mysteriously kept focusing on grandmothers and Mitt shut him up by saying that our problem is not 11 million grandmothers. In fact, in answering Gingrich's attacks, Romney was able to give a full-throated argument in favor of legal immigration while contrasting those who want to come here legally with those who have bypassed the legal process. Romney succeeded in making the pro-legal immigration argument that so many conservatives seem to forget to make.
Granted, Romney seemed weak when he didn't know what was in his own attack ad. Not the best evidence of his executive leadership of his own campaign, but most people recognize that those ads are made and a loop of the candidate's voice saying he approved the ad is tacked on afterward. However, any discussion of whether or not Newt made a statement that could have been inferred to say that he considered Spanish the language of the ghetto is not good for Newt. And he did make that statement and later issued an apology in Spanish for what he said so the ad is mostly true.
And then we had about a ten-minute detour to talk about colonizing the Moon. And once again Gingrich's science-fiction-inspired aspirations seemed out of touch with the real concerns of people.
The real revelation of the debate was how well Santorum did. He totally nailed Romney on the similarities between Romneycare and Obamacare. And he made the connection to why this is important - Romney is going to be hobbled going against Obama in the general election in making the arguments against Obamacare when Romney enacted such a similar program.
That was one of Romney's weakest moments in all the debates. And then he told Santorum, "It’s not worth getting angry about," Well, a lot of people are extremely angry about Obamacare and Santorum is right to be angry even though I didn't think he sounded angry, but dynamic and right. And Romney didn't have an answer. In that exchange he reminded conservatives of why we've been suspicious of him the entire time.
Santorum was also great when he said that Wolf Blitzer should move on beyond the tit-for-tat arguing between Newt and Mitt. He came off as above-the-fray and more focused on the real issues people care about. Gingrich tried to take the lifeline, but Romney was able to taunt him to coming back to the same unappealing arguments. It made Gingrich look bad, but mostly it made Santorum look good.
The real question that raised was why Gingrich was the one who had risen to the top as the chief non-Mitt when Santorum is so much stronger. I wouldn't be surprised if Newt's numbers tumbled and Santorum's rose, but it's probably too little too late for Santorum. He might not have been my first choice, but it's a shame that he languished at the bottom while such candidates as Bachmann, Cain, Perry, and now Gingrich rose up in the Whack-a-Mole efforts to find a non-Mitt. Any surge by Santorum now would most likely help Mitt by once again dividing up the non-Mitt vote and Santorum doesn't have the money or organization to compete in the remaining states. Mostly, Santorum has been hurt by the image of being such a loser in his last Senate campaign. And having that big L over his head is not what voters are looking for in going against Obama.
Gingrich got his wish to have a debate with an audience that could react and cheer. Unfortunately for him, he delivered his worst debate performance in the entire long march of all these debates. He was defensive and whiny for most of the debate. Mostly, he just seemed angry that he was getting attacked. Does he think that Obama would be gentler on him than his fellow Republicans? He got better at the end, but by then it was too late.
He even tried his signature bombast against the media moderator and got posterized by Wolf Blitzer who fought back and told Gingrich he should be willing to stand by the attacks on Romney that he himself has been making on the campaign trail. Forget Gingrich's claims to be the master debater to go up against Obama; he lost to Wolf Blitzer. That can't be a good thing for a candidate whose main selling point is that he can vocalize conservatives' anger at the mainstream media.
Romney has gotten stronger in having to fight back attacks that Obama will certainly be making if Romney should win the nomination. It also probably raised his negatives, but that was going to happen anyway. And those candidates who have lost, except for Santorum, have come off looking worse than when they started campaigning. Perhaps that might be a salutary lesson for future possible candidates looking to raise their visibility by a hopeless run for the nomination.