Commentary Magazine


Topic: Florida primary

Why is Callista Gingrich So Quiet?

Maureen Dowd has a new piece out on Callista Gingrich this week, and while it devolves into unnecessary nastiness at the end, this part about the contrast between Newt’s and Mitt’s wives is worth noting:

Ann Romney often introduces her husband, chatting warmly about his uxorious virtues, and then disappears offstage or to the back of the stage while he talks. But the 45-year-old Callista has created an entirely new model for a spouse, standing mute in her primary color suits and triple-strand pearls looking at the 68-year-old Newt for the whole event, her platinum carapace inclined deferentially toward his shaggy gray mane. …

That may be why she has a largely nonspeaking role in the campaign, as silent as the slender heroine of “The Artist,” even though Newt relays that she has described herself as a hybrid of Nancy Reagan, Laura Bush and Jackie Kennedy. The campaign does not want to remind voters that the relationship, portrayed as so redemptive, was born in sin and hypocrisy.

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Maureen Dowd has a new piece out on Callista Gingrich this week, and while it devolves into unnecessary nastiness at the end, this part about the contrast between Newt’s and Mitt’s wives is worth noting:

Ann Romney often introduces her husband, chatting warmly about his uxorious virtues, and then disappears offstage or to the back of the stage while he talks. But the 45-year-old Callista has created an entirely new model for a spouse, standing mute in her primary color suits and triple-strand pearls looking at the 68-year-old Newt for the whole event, her platinum carapace inclined deferentially toward his shaggy gray mane. …

That may be why she has a largely nonspeaking role in the campaign, as silent as the slender heroine of “The Artist,” even though Newt relays that she has described herself as a hybrid of Nancy Reagan, Laura Bush and Jackie Kennedy. The campaign does not want to remind voters that the relationship, portrayed as so redemptive, was born in sin and hypocrisy.

It wasn’t until after reading this that I realized I couldn’t even remember actually hearing Callista speak. A Google search for Callista Gingrich interviews – which brought up this 2009 clip of her sounding like a museum guide robot – only managed to amplify the Stepford Wife resemblance. This isn’t a person talking, it’s rote memorization. Which raises the question: is Gingrich uncomfortable with his wife speaking off-the-cuff?

This wouldn’t be an issue worth mentioning if Newt didn’t already have a serious problem with women voters, one some pundits say may have cost him Florida. While Gingrich’s advisers may think keeping Callista quiet will draw less attention to Newt’s infidelity, in fact, the exact opposite is probably true. Women see Callista trailing her husband around the country like a silent mannequin and find it instinctively off-putting: Why is he so uncomfortable with his wife taking a normal role in the campaign? What’s wrong with him? If Newt wants to understand his problem with women voters, he has to realize Callista’s odd silence plays a part in it.

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The Myth of Palin’s Influence

Alana’s question as to why Sarah Palin continues to toy with the public and the Republican presidential field and refuses to issue a firm endorsement of one candidate is a good one. I believe the answer, however, has more to do with her desire to try to hog the spotlight for as long as possible than it does with any inane hopes on her part of a deadlocked GOP eventually turning to her as a savior or even her obligations to Fox News. But after last night’s Florida result, there is an even better query to be posed to those who spent much of the last week touting the former Alaska governor as a difference maker in the South Carolina primary.

If Palin’s unofficial endorsement was thought by some observers, including smart people like the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol, to have had some influence on the outcome in South Carolina, what conclusions should we draw from the fact that her call for Floridians to “rage against the machine” and vote for Gingrich doesn’t seem to have had the same effect?

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Alana’s question as to why Sarah Palin continues to toy with the public and the Republican presidential field and refuses to issue a firm endorsement of one candidate is a good one. I believe the answer, however, has more to do with her desire to try to hog the spotlight for as long as possible than it does with any inane hopes on her part of a deadlocked GOP eventually turning to her as a savior or even her obligations to Fox News. But after last night’s Florida result, there is an even better query to be posed to those who spent much of the last week touting the former Alaska governor as a difference maker in the South Carolina primary.

If Palin’s unofficial endorsement was thought by some observers, including smart people like the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol, to have had some influence on the outcome in South Carolina, what conclusions should we draw from the fact that her call for Floridians to “rage against the machine” and vote for Gingrich doesn’t seem to have had the same effect?

The answer is obvious. While there may be a few conservatives who look to Palin for guidance, most disregarded her advice. Exit polls of those voting yesterday show Romney had a slight edge among Tea Party backers over Gingrich (winning 40-38 percent), and finished in a virtual statistical tie with him among evangelicals (losing them by a 38-37 percent margin). These are, after all, the two groups we are told are Palin’s base of support. Yet Romney–not her choice of Gingrich–held his own among them and won the overall vote by a huge margin.

We will, no doubt, continue to hear a great deal from her so long as she remains on Fox’s payroll. But as the primary season proceeds with more opportunities for her counsel to be ignored by GOP voters, her stock will continue to sink. All of which ought to remind Palin’s credulous fans as well as journalists that the idea of her influence over Republican voters is more myth than reality.

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Dissecting Romney’s Florida Victory

1. The reach and scope of Governor Romney’s primary victory in Florida was enormous. He not only defeated Newt Gingrich by more than 14 points, Romney’s total was larger than the combined total of both Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Romney won among men and women; in all age, income, and education categories; among whites and Hispanics; among those who support and oppose the Tea Party; among those who decided early and those who decided late; and among evangelicals. Among the only categories Romney did not carry was those who described themselves “very conservative” (Gingrich carried 41 percent of the vote while Romney took 30 percent). Those who consider themselves “somewhat conservative” went for Romney 52 percent v. 32 percent for Gingrich.

Almost half the voters in Florida (46 percent) said electability was their top concern – and of that group, they preferred the former Massachusetts governor by 26 percentage points. And of the 62 percent of voters who said the economy was the issue that matters most to them, 52 percent went for Romney  v. 30 percent for Gingrich.

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1. The reach and scope of Governor Romney’s primary victory in Florida was enormous. He not only defeated Newt Gingrich by more than 14 points, Romney’s total was larger than the combined total of both Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Romney won among men and women; in all age, income, and education categories; among whites and Hispanics; among those who support and oppose the Tea Party; among those who decided early and those who decided late; and among evangelicals. Among the only categories Romney did not carry was those who described themselves “very conservative” (Gingrich carried 41 percent of the vote while Romney took 30 percent). Those who consider themselves “somewhat conservative” went for Romney 52 percent v. 32 percent for Gingrich.

Almost half the voters in Florida (46 percent) said electability was their top concern – and of that group, they preferred the former Massachusetts governor by 26 percentage points. And of the 62 percent of voters who said the economy was the issue that matters most to them, 52 percent went for Romney  v. 30 percent for Gingrich.

2. The Washington Post makes this point: “Florida, the fourth state to vote this primary season, was not only the biggest prize yet, but also the purest test of where the party stands nationally. Unlike earlier primaries in New Hampshire  and South Carolina, Florida’s contest was open only to registered Republicans; about seven in 10 voters identified themselves as somewhat or very conservative, according to exit polls.”

3. Among the key factors in Romney’s win were the debates. ABC News reports that around two-thirds of Florida voters say the debates were an important factor in their vote in yesterday’s primary. In addition, about four in 10 voters said advertising was an important factor in their vote. All told, Newt Gingrich was outspent on TV ads by as much as 5-to-1, with 90 percent of those ads negative. Gingrich was enraged by this and complained throughout the contest, trying to make it a referendum on Romney’s character. Yet as the Post reports, “voters didn’t perceive Romney as overly negative.” Thirty four percent said Romney had run an unfair campaign while an equal 34 percent said the same of Gingrich, according to exit polling.

4. Governor Romney came within a hair’s width of winning three of four states that cast votes in January. Romney won by 16 points in New Hampshire, by 14 points in Florida, and came within 35 votes of winning Iowa (out of roughly 120,000 votes cast). The only election in which he was soundly beaten was in South Carolina, where Gingrich defeated Romney by 12 points. Gingrich, on the other hand, finished fourth, fifth, first, and second in the four contests.

5. The three most important contests in February are held in Arizona, Nevada, and Michigan. In 2008, Romney won the latter two (he came in second to Arizona Senator John McCain that year). Maine, Minnesota and Colorado also hold (non-binding) contests this month, and Romney won those three races in 2008. Romney is also the clear favorite to win in most of the 11 contests that will be held on March 6 (delegates will be rewarded proportionately). It’s also worth noting there’s only one debate on the schedule for February (February 22 in Arizona).

If Mitt Romney were to lose the nomination, he would have to experience an epic collapse, unlike any we have seen. Is it conceivable this could happen? Yes. Is it at all likely it will happen? No.

The GOP primary may not be officially over. But we know who the GOP nominee will be.

Get ready for Romney v. Obama.

 

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Romney Wins Electability Primary

Mitt Romney’s huge win tonight in Florida was sufficiently large that it is not possible to interpret it as anything but a stamp of approval from a broad cross-section of Republican voters in a closed primary. Given that by the last week the primary had become a two-man race, it is also impossible to avoid the conclusion that it was a resounding rejection of Newt Gingrich. Gingrich appears likely to take the sore loser scenario in the coming weeks as he attempts to foul the well for the likely nominee by branding him as not just a relative moderate — which is what Romney actually is — but a liberal. Gingrich may be able to convince his large donors to fund a last ditch and probably futile effort to derail the frontrunner. But he is unlikely to persuade most Republicans they are better off with a crippled nominee simply to vent his personal spleen at Romney for having beaten him at his own game with negative ads.

More importantly, the message Gingrich has been given from Florida Republicans is they consider him less electable than Romney.

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Mitt Romney’s huge win tonight in Florida was sufficiently large that it is not possible to interpret it as anything but a stamp of approval from a broad cross-section of Republican voters in a closed primary. Given that by the last week the primary had become a two-man race, it is also impossible to avoid the conclusion that it was a resounding rejection of Newt Gingrich. Gingrich appears likely to take the sore loser scenario in the coming weeks as he attempts to foul the well for the likely nominee by branding him as not just a relative moderate — which is what Romney actually is — but a liberal. Gingrich may be able to convince his large donors to fund a last ditch and probably futile effort to derail the frontrunner. But he is unlikely to persuade most Republicans they are better off with a crippled nominee simply to vent his personal spleen at Romney for having beaten him at his own game with negative ads.

More importantly, the message Gingrich has been given from Florida Republicans is they consider him less electable than Romney.

Exit polls show electability was the most important issue for primary voters. Gingrich claims repeatedly that his debating skills make him the most likely to beat President Obama in the fall but getting spanked twice last week put a period to his claim to being Mr. “Lincoln-Douglas.” Florida confirmed what most Republicans who are not bitterly opposed to Romney already knew: he is the only GOP candidate with a chance to win the wavering Democrats and independents who will decide who is elected president in November.

Gingrich appears to have no strategy to win the nomination. As Florida demonstrated, he has an unlikely chance of winning the general election if he were to be nominated. The only choice left to him is how much damage he wants to do to the only candidate with the ability to beat Obama.

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Low Jewish Turnout in Florida Doesn’t Help Obama in November

Exit polls in Florida are showing that Jews only made up one percent of the electorate in today’s Republican primary. Since that is down from three percent in the 2008 GOP primary, Nate Silver of the New York Times concludes that this may show a lack of enthusiasm for the Republican field among Jews. That might mean, he writes, there may be reason for Democrats to think Jewish resentment of President Obama’s attitude toward Israel may not be carrying over into the 2012 election. But Democrats would be foolish to seize on such flimsy evidence for proof they are not in trouble with Jewish voters.

It is true that a drop in GOP Jewish registration shows none of the candidates generated enough Jewish buzz to get more voters to switch party affiliation as in 2008. But the comparison is unfair, because the man who drove that mini-surge in Jewish Republican voters was Rudy Giuliani. Though he flopped in the Florida primary four years ago, the former mayor of New York was a big favorite of the Jewish and pro-Israel community. None of this year’s Republican crop can claim that kind of loyalty from Jews, but the ultimate winner of the GOP nomination will have one thing going for him: he’ll be running against an incumbent president who is rightly viewed by many Jews as having distanced himself from Israel.

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Exit polls in Florida are showing that Jews only made up one percent of the electorate in today’s Republican primary. Since that is down from three percent in the 2008 GOP primary, Nate Silver of the New York Times concludes that this may show a lack of enthusiasm for the Republican field among Jews. That might mean, he writes, there may be reason for Democrats to think Jewish resentment of President Obama’s attitude toward Israel may not be carrying over into the 2012 election. But Democrats would be foolish to seize on such flimsy evidence for proof they are not in trouble with Jewish voters.

It is true that a drop in GOP Jewish registration shows none of the candidates generated enough Jewish buzz to get more voters to switch party affiliation as in 2008. But the comparison is unfair, because the man who drove that mini-surge in Jewish Republican voters was Rudy Giuliani. Though he flopped in the Florida primary four years ago, the former mayor of New York was a big favorite of the Jewish and pro-Israel community. None of this year’s Republican crop can claim that kind of loyalty from Jews, but the ultimate winner of the GOP nomination will have one thing going for him: he’ll be running against an incumbent president who is rightly viewed by many Jews as having distanced himself from Israel.

Florida is a state where Jewish swing voters could affect the outcome in November. That’s why Obama is trying so hard to make Jews forget his record of non-stop quarrels with Israel’s government in the last three years. Any Republican, especially a relative moderate like Mitt Romney, will be well-placed to take advantage of this Democratic problem.

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Romney Needs to Win Big in Florida

With a bevy of polls showing Mitt Romney with healthy leads of anywhere from 8 to 20 points over Newt Gingrich in Florida, there seems little doubt he will win today’s Republican primary there. But with both Romney and Gingrich campaigning hard down to the last day, both camps are aware the margin of victory for the former Massachusetts governor will have an impact on the rest of the GOP race. Romney needs to meet or exceed the high expectations that have been set for him in Florida, because any slippage significantly below a double-digit margin will allow Gingrich to claim a moral victory of sorts that will encourage conservatives to believe the frontrunner can be slowed if not stopped.

While a decisive Romney victory tonight will not force Gingrich or Santorum out of the race, it will make it harder on them to argue they still have a viable chance to be the nominee. With no states on the horizon where either “non-Romney” has much hope of winning and with no debates scheduled for weeks, the aftermath of a Romney romp in Florida could be challenging. In particular, if Gingrich fails to keep it close, it could make it more difficult for him to persuade the major donors who have kept his campaign alive to go on pouring millions down the sinkhole of his campaign. Absent some signs of a rebound from his poor debate performances last week, it will make it appear as if the only point of Gingrich’s candidacy is to cripple Romney, something that will help President Obama in the fall more than it will advance the cause of conservatism he claims to champion.

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With a bevy of polls showing Mitt Romney with healthy leads of anywhere from 8 to 20 points over Newt Gingrich in Florida, there seems little doubt he will win today’s Republican primary there. But with both Romney and Gingrich campaigning hard down to the last day, both camps are aware the margin of victory for the former Massachusetts governor will have an impact on the rest of the GOP race. Romney needs to meet or exceed the high expectations that have been set for him in Florida, because any slippage significantly below a double-digit margin will allow Gingrich to claim a moral victory of sorts that will encourage conservatives to believe the frontrunner can be slowed if not stopped.

While a decisive Romney victory tonight will not force Gingrich or Santorum out of the race, it will make it harder on them to argue they still have a viable chance to be the nominee. With no states on the horizon where either “non-Romney” has much hope of winning and with no debates scheduled for weeks, the aftermath of a Romney romp in Florida could be challenging. In particular, if Gingrich fails to keep it close, it could make it more difficult for him to persuade the major donors who have kept his campaign alive to go on pouring millions down the sinkhole of his campaign. Absent some signs of a rebound from his poor debate performances last week, it will make it appear as if the only point of Gingrich’s candidacy is to cripple Romney, something that will help President Obama in the fall more than it will advance the cause of conservatism he claims to champion.

It should be stipulated that if there is anything the first month of caucus and primary voting in 2012 has shown it is that momentum in politics is a meaningless term. The winners in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina all fell flat the next time out. But Florida will be a slightly different proposition mainly because it is the first big state to hold an election and also because of the lull that will follow.

The caucuses in Nevada, Maine, Colorado and Minnesota (and the non-binding primary in Missouri) that will take place in the following weeks are important. But they will not get the same attention as the first states with primaries. The next major test will come on Feb. 28 when Arizona and Michigan voters head to the polls, and though a month can be a lifetime in politics, both states look to be favorable for Romney. That will leave the challengers needing to hang on until Super Tuesday on March 6, where Gingrich must win a majority of the southern states in order to have any shred of hope he can win the nomination.

By lowering Romney’s margin of victory in Florida, Gingrich can make the long wait until Super Tuesday bearable. But if he is beaten decisively, it will make Romney all the more formidable in the weeks to come. It might also encourage Rick Santorum to stay in the race in the hope that a Gingrich implosion will leave him, and not the former House Speaker, as the last “non-Romney” left standing other than libertarian extremist Ron Paul.

But leaving aside the impact of Florida on the likely losers, a big win for Romney in a big state will lock in the perception he is the most electable Republican. In the past week, Romney has bested Gingrich in debates and shown that he can land as well as take a punch in the form of negative advertising. If he follows that up with a big Florida win, the idea of his inevitability will become more than merely a talking point for his supporters.

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“Mr. Lincoln-Douglas” Fades in Florida

The latest polls of likely Republican voters in Florida confirm the trend that started earlier this week: Mitt Romney seems to be set for a resounding win in Tuesday’s primary. All of the six most recent surveys conducted  show Romney with a large lead over Newt Gingrich. The only difference among them is how big, with Public Policy Polling’s numbers released yesterday showing Romney with an 8-point lead and Rasmussen’s survey published the same day giving him a whopping 16-point advantage. In a highly volatile race that had seemed to be trending to Gingrich after his big win in South Carolina last week, there’s no doubt the pendulum has swung back to Romney.

While both sides of what has become a two-man race have been slinging abuse at each other via super PAC-funded ads, the main factor that has given Romney an advantage was the two televised debates that took place this week. Gingrich’s candidacy was based more or less on the idea that he was the champion debater of the field who was the only Republican that could take on President Obama in the fall in such a forum and beat him. But after being knocked around himself this week by both Romney and Rick Santorum, the notion of Gingrich as Mr. Lincoln-Douglas has been badly undermined. Though conservatives may still not trust Romney, his new more aggressive approach has at least given more of them confidence in his candidacy as well as showing that Gingrich’s preferred tactic of bullying moderators has stopped working.

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The latest polls of likely Republican voters in Florida confirm the trend that started earlier this week: Mitt Romney seems to be set for a resounding win in Tuesday’s primary. All of the six most recent surveys conducted  show Romney with a large lead over Newt Gingrich. The only difference among them is how big, with Public Policy Polling’s numbers released yesterday showing Romney with an 8-point lead and Rasmussen’s survey published the same day giving him a whopping 16-point advantage. In a highly volatile race that had seemed to be trending to Gingrich after his big win in South Carolina last week, there’s no doubt the pendulum has swung back to Romney.

While both sides of what has become a two-man race have been slinging abuse at each other via super PAC-funded ads, the main factor that has given Romney an advantage was the two televised debates that took place this week. Gingrich’s candidacy was based more or less on the idea that he was the champion debater of the field who was the only Republican that could take on President Obama in the fall in such a forum and beat him. But after being knocked around himself this week by both Romney and Rick Santorum, the notion of Gingrich as Mr. Lincoln-Douglas has been badly undermined. Though conservatives may still not trust Romney, his new more aggressive approach has at least given more of them confidence in his candidacy as well as showing that Gingrich’s preferred tactic of bullying moderators has stopped working.

A defeat in Florida isn’t necessarily fatal for Gingrich. Thanks to some large donors — principally casino mogul Sheldon Adelson — he has enough money to continue. But a bad defeat in Florida, the first big state with a varied population to vote, is an ominous portent of what is likely to happen elsewhere in the country.

Even more importantly, there are no more debates scheduled until later in February. The last time there was a gap in the debate schedule back in December, Gingrich’s first surge in the polls collapsed. Though, as Nate Silver points out in the New York Times, the upcoming caucus states that hold elections in February will be tricky for Romney, he will be the heavy favorite everywhere. But with no upcoming debates and no states coming up in which he will have any advantage, it’s difficult to see how Gingrich can recover from his current predicament.

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Last Debate Before Florida Sinks Gingrich

Tonight’s Republican presidential debate on CNN was the last one before the Florida primary as well as the last one for almost a month. That made it critical for Newt Gingrich, the man whose candidacy has largely depended on success in debates to do well tonight. But instead of another triumph in which he was able to use attacks on the moderators and his rivals, Gingrich came out flat. While there is little doubt Rick Santorum did the best of any of the candidates tonight and Ron Paul had a few good jokes, the real winner was Mitt Romney, who attacked Gingrich relentlessly and with good effect.

Gingrich’s poor performance not only undermines his argument that he would trounce Barack Obama in debates but also squandered what might be his last chance to turn the momentum of the race around. Gingrich’s usual trick of turning on the moderator flopped. So did his attacks on Romney. Along with Gingrich, Romney took a pounding from Santorum but even that worked to his benefit. Any votes Santorum gains in Florida will be at Gingrich’s expense. The Jacksonville debate may have sealed Gingrich’s fate in Florida and perhaps the entire race.

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Tonight’s Republican presidential debate on CNN was the last one before the Florida primary as well as the last one for almost a month. That made it critical for Newt Gingrich, the man whose candidacy has largely depended on success in debates to do well tonight. But instead of another triumph in which he was able to use attacks on the moderators and his rivals, Gingrich came out flat. While there is little doubt Rick Santorum did the best of any of the candidates tonight and Ron Paul had a few good jokes, the real winner was Mitt Romney, who attacked Gingrich relentlessly and with good effect.

Gingrich’s poor performance not only undermines his argument that he would trounce Barack Obama in debates but also squandered what might be his last chance to turn the momentum of the race around. Gingrich’s usual trick of turning on the moderator flopped. So did his attacks on Romney. Along with Gingrich, Romney took a pounding from Santorum but even that worked to his benefit. Any votes Santorum gains in Florida will be at Gingrich’s expense. The Jacksonville debate may have sealed Gingrich’s fate in Florida and perhaps the entire race.

Romney came out strong, taking Gingrich to task for his attacks on him and then followed up by taking the former speaker to task on his connection with Freddie Mac. Gingrich then attempted to deflect a Wolf Blitzer question about his attacks on Romney’s finances back on the moderator. But, unfortunately for Gingrich, Blitzer would have none of it. The result was that he was made to look foolish while Romney took him further to task. That was a pattern that repeated itself throughout the evening as Gingrich missed opportunities to make points at his rival’s expense and never was able to seize a moment and get the boisterous crowd behind him. Instead, it was Romney who got more applause for his aggressive focus on Gingrich’s weak points, including his latest “grandiose” idea: a moon colony plan that he denounced as a blatant pander.

Yet, while the first hour looked to be a runaway for Romney, Santorum’s ability to turn the issue of his Massachusetts health care bill on him changed the dynamic of the event. From then on, it was Santorum who was more or less in charge, including a stirring statement about the connection between faith and the rights guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence.

But despite his good showing, Santorum has little chance in Florida. He did not even have the money to buy television ads in Florida and has decided not to stay in the state on Tuesday night to await the primary results. That means any strength he gains there in the last days as a result of his powerful debate showings will merely be conservative votes taken away from a fading Gingrich. Indeed, on the basis of this night at least, it was clear that the best “not Romney” on the stage was Santorum, not Gingrich.

While Romney was put back on his heels by Santorum’s withering scolding about his health care bill, his performance was still, along with Monday’s debate in Tampa, a reversal of previous debates in which he had been battered by Gingrich. Instead, it was the former speaker who was constantly forced on the defensive. Having come into the hall needing a knockout to get back on top in Florida, Gingrich found himself being clearly bested on points. While the volatility of the GOP race is such that it is perilous to make predictions, after this debacle it’s hard to see how Gingrich prevents a Romney win in Florida next Tuesday. After today, the talk of Romney’s inevitability, which had disappeared in the days since South Carolina, may resume.

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Live Blog: The GOP Debate

The debate ends. Winners: Santorum and Romney. Loser: Gingrich. Paul: barely there.

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On electability, Romney says the question is whether the US will become more like Europe or remain strong. Says he’s a DC outsider and a businessman and that’s what the American people will want. Gingrich says he won in 94 and that he’s running for his grandchildren and that only big ideas can win. Santorum calls out Romney and Gingrich on global warming “hoax” and the bank bailout. Says he’s the one who can win Reagan Democrats.

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Question about faith prompts defense of religious freedom from Mitt and attack on anti-religious bigotry from Newt. His first moment where he’s giving the right what they want to hear. Santorum knocks it out of the park with answer on the connection between faith and the rights guaranteed in the Declearation of Independenc.e Constitution is the how of America, Declaration of Independence is the why. Declaration mentions the Creator and the rights that came from the Creator.

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Puerto Rican statehood? Are they kidding? Santorum answers it’s their own choice.

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Gingrich sees Romney’s support for Israel and attack on Palestinian leadership and raises him one move of the embassy to Jerusalem! Both gave strong answers denouncing Obama’s failures and putting the onus for the lack of peace directly on the Palestinians.

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The debate ends. Winners: Santorum and Romney. Loser: Gingrich. Paul: barely there.

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On electability, Romney says the question is whether the US will become more like Europe or remain strong. Says he’s a DC outsider and a businessman and that’s what the American people will want. Gingrich says he won in 94 and that he’s running for his grandchildren and that only big ideas can win. Santorum calls out Romney and Gingrich on global warming “hoax” and the bank bailout. Says he’s the one who can win Reagan Democrats.

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Question about faith prompts defense of religious freedom from Mitt and attack on anti-religious bigotry from Newt. His first moment where he’s giving the right what they want to hear. Santorum knocks it out of the park with answer on the connection between faith and the rights guaranteed in the Declearation of Independenc.e Constitution is the how of America, Declaration of Independence is the why. Declaration mentions the Creator and the rights that came from the Creator.

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Puerto Rican statehood? Are they kidding? Santorum answers it’s their own choice.

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Gingrich sees Romney’s support for Israel and attack on Palestinian leadership and raises him one move of the embassy to Jerusalem! Both gave strong answers denouncing Obama’s failures and putting the onus for the lack of peace directly on the Palestinians.

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So far virtually nothing about the economy. I was about to say nothing about Israel but then a Palestinian asks the question. Romney answers why no peace in the Middle East with strong answer about Palestinian desire to destroy Israel. Vows solidarity as opposed to Obama throwing Israel under the bus.

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Santorum makes strong point about not giving up the fight for a free Cuba. Paul dissents. Romney and Gingrich largely agree.

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Gingrich wins on being closer to Reagan than Romney. But he misses an opportunity to hit Romney on his conservative credentials. He’s having a bad night at exactly the wrong time.

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All the candidates, including Newt, do nicely praising their wives. Romney and Santorum win this question though.

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Question about which Hispanic leaders would be appointed to the Cabinet is an invitation to pander. The candidates don’t disappoint. Blitzer then says after the break there will be a question about first ladies. Ridiculous. Twitter lighting up with jokes about which wife Gingrich will mention. Ouch. A

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Santorum then nails Romney and Gingrich on their past support for the individual mandate. Gingrich tries to draw a distinction, Romney forced to defend his health care law again then promises again that he’ll repeal Obamacare. Santorum won’t let him off the hook though. Says GOP can’t give away the issue. Another strong moment for Santorum. First weak moment for Romney. Says it’s not worth getting angry about. But Santorum continues to hone in on the comparison with Obamacare.

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Question from the audience about health care insurance. No real disagreement among the candidates. All for lowering costs and empowering individuals and opposing Obama and Obamacare.

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Paul nails Gingrich on his balanced budgets in the 90s. Santorum then attacks Gingrich for his unrealistic ideas which he compares to Obama. Bad night for Newt continues.

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Gingrich defends his “grandiose” idea about a moon colony becoming a state. He enjoys this sort of argument but it’s not working for him. However, his line about abandoning space being a sign of national decline isn’t totally wrong. But Romney is right about corporate America not being interested in space colonies. Romney then nails Gingrich on pandering in every state. Gingrich answers that he’s going around learning.

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Paul gets a laugh about sending politicians to the moon. But libertarians don’t want to pay for the rockets.

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Romney asked about Gingrich moon station idea. Says its too expensive then punts on future of NASA while saying he supports manned flights. Gingrich makes some sense about the future of the program but he won’t win with his moon colony idea. He knows it’s just an idea that can’t be paid for.

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Blitzer wastes time asking a question about the release of medical records.

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Santorum says he opposes zeroing out capital gains tax. Ron Paul says he wants to repeal the 16th amendment — the federal income tax. Welcome to libertarian fantasyland.

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Gingrich tries to deflect Blitzer question about his attacks on Romney by blaming moderator. Blitzer doesn’t let him get away with it this time. Romney then says it would be nice if people wouldn’t make attacks they won’t defend at a debate. Romney then demolishes the attack again. Another great moment for Romney. Newt’s not looking like the Lincoln-Douglas guy tonight.

***

At the first break: Gingrich attacks on Romney haven’t worked so far. If he was hoping for a repeat of last week, he’s falling short. Romney holding his ground. Santorum did well when given a chance to talk. But that came too seldom.

***

Santorum scores big point by saying that attacks on Gingrich’s lobbying and Romney’s money are a giant distraction.

***

Gingrich answers by saying that Romney owns Fannie and Freddie Mac investments and Goldman Sachs. Romney answers his investments are in a blind trust made in a Mutual Funds not stocks. Then adds that Gingrich has the same kind of investments. And that it’s not the same as promoting them for money as Gingrich did. Gingrich then says Romney should have given instructions to his blind trust. This attack fell flat.

***

Romney starts in on Freddie Mac and says they needed a whistle-blower not a horn-tooter as Gingrich was.

***

Wolf Blitzer calls Romney on his “language of the ghetto” ad aimed at Gingrich. He recovers quickly by asking whether Newt said it. Gingrich says it’s out of context. That saves Romney a bit.

***

Santorum tears into this topic with passion attacking Obama for not being willing to stand up for democracy and to combat the threat of radical Islam. This is one of his best issues.

***

Question about Iran and Islamists infiltrating Latin America. Ron Paul answer: free trade, including with Cuba. Translation: He’s not that interested in what Islamists do.

***

Santorum and Paul wondering right now whether they’ll ever get back into the debate.

***

Gingrich backs up his “anti-immigrant” charge at Romney. Romney demands an apology and accuses him of being over the top. Big applause from the audience. First blow landed. Gingrich asks how else would you describe his position. Romney calmly says that being in favor of enforcing the law doesn’t make you anti-immigrant. Romney: Our problem isn’t 11 million grandmothers. Romney wins the exchange.

***

Gingrich criticizes Romney’s stand on “self-deportation” and then mentions his selective service idea for amnesty again. Not exactly a stinging blow. Those expecting him to come out snarling disappointed so far. Romney reiterates his ideas about stopping the illegals. No blows landed on either side.

***

Starting off with an audience question on immigration. Santorum answers with his grandfather’s story and his usual routine about illegals being law breakers. Getting so that most of the audience knows these candidates set answers as well as they do.

***

Santorum gets the good son award by mentioning his mom in his intro. Newt gets the Navy nod by mentioning a carrier battlegroup. Romney talks about his numerous family as usual. Ron Paul grimly goes into his isolationist rant.

***

Seems like the CNN staff did a good job riling up the crowd at the debate. Expecting a lot of fireworks.

***

CNN’s John King just rehashed the story about Gingrich’s lie about offering competing witnesses to ABC last week to rebut his ex-wife on the air in the last few minutes before the debate started. Payback. Double ouch.

***

Given the nastiness of a lot of the exchanges between the candidates in the last two days, a lot of people are expecting some bitter attacks about Bain, bank accounts and Freddie Mac. I wouldn’t bet against that.

***

We’re waiting for the debate to begin. On CNN, Alex Castellanos just compared Gingrich to Goldwater to explain why many conservatives fear his winning the nomination this year. Of course, a lot of conservatives wouldn’t be upset by this comparison. David Frum follows by pointing out that Gingrich’s winning opening at the CNN debate a week ago was based on a lie. Ouch.

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Live Blogging the GOP Debate

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the Republican presidential debate taking place tonight in Jacksonville, Florida. So tune in to CNN at 8 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the final four candidates have at it once again in their last such forum before the Florida primary.

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the Republican presidential debate taking place tonight in Jacksonville, Florida. So tune in to CNN at 8 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the final four candidates have at it once again in their last such forum before the Florida primary.

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Debate Preview: Will the Audience Fuel a Gingrich Comeback?

In the repeat of a pattern that has characterized the Republican presidential race since last summer, a new batch of opinion polls show that since Monday night’s debate, Mitt Romney has not only halted Newt Gingrich’s momentum but has regained the lead in the crucial Florida primary. But with five days left until Florida Republicans vote, the question today is whether Gingrich can use tonight’s debate (8 p.m. on CNN) to reclaim the mantle of conservative insurgent he has so skillfully utilized in the past.

The good news for Gingrich is that unlike Monday’s debate in Tampa where the audience was discouraged from applauding or reacting in any way to the proceedings, CNN is once again encouraging those in the hall in Jacksonville to whoop and holler as much as they like. The lack of audience reaction was seen as helping to tone down Gingrich’s demeanor on Monday. That was in marked contrast to the way he played off the crowd when he challenged CNN moderator John King’s opening question about his second wife’s accusations of misbehavior. That means we can probably expect Gingrich to come out swinging at the media and Romney and hope he can once again induce those in attendance to stand and cheer.

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In the repeat of a pattern that has characterized the Republican presidential race since last summer, a new batch of opinion polls show that since Monday night’s debate, Mitt Romney has not only halted Newt Gingrich’s momentum but has regained the lead in the crucial Florida primary. But with five days left until Florida Republicans vote, the question today is whether Gingrich can use tonight’s debate (8 p.m. on CNN) to reclaim the mantle of conservative insurgent he has so skillfully utilized in the past.

The good news for Gingrich is that unlike Monday’s debate in Tampa where the audience was discouraged from applauding or reacting in any way to the proceedings, CNN is once again encouraging those in the hall in Jacksonville to whoop and holler as much as they like. The lack of audience reaction was seen as helping to tone down Gingrich’s demeanor on Monday. That was in marked contrast to the way he played off the crowd when he challenged CNN moderator John King’s opening question about his second wife’s accusations of misbehavior. That means we can probably expect Gingrich to come out swinging at the media and Romney and hope he can once again induce those in attendance to stand and cheer.

That leaves Romney with an interesting dilemma. On Monday night, he directly challenged Gingrich on his past record of leadership failures as well as his Freddie Mac and health care lobbying. Though Romney benefited from going on the offensive, such attacks tonight may give Gingrich an excuse for another contrived tirade with which he hopes to seize control of the debate. That last debate was the first in which it could be said Romney bested Gingrich. A repeat of that performance could doom the latter, because almost all of his recent success has rested on the perception he is a debate champion.

Nevertheless, Romney would be foolish to revert to a frontrunner mentality in which he tried to ignore Gingrich’s attacks. This has been a race in which voters have consistently reacted negatively to candidates who acted as if they had the nomination sewn up. This is especially troublesome for Romney, whose main drawback for GOP voters rests in the perception that he is the establishment choice being imposed on them whether they like it or not. Moreover, Romney knows most conservatives dislike him as a moderate, an image that has allowed a longtime Washington insider like Gingrich to become the favorite of Tea Party voters. The only way Romney can overcome this disadvantage is to remind voters of Gingrich’s character issues and record. Assuming a more aggressive stance toward his opponent can also persuade some Republicans that Romney not only cares deeply about the issues but also is someone who can take on President Obama in the fall.

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum, and to a lesser extent Ron Paul, will be fighting for attention and to get a word in edgewise as they did earlier this week. But the focus will almost certainly remain on Gingrich as he tries again to appeal to the audience in the hall as well as those watching on television.

The importance of this debate for Gingrich can’t be overestimated. This is not only the last scheduled GOP debate before Florida but also the last one for almost a month. The last time there was this long a break between debates (back in December), an earlier Gingrich surge collapsed and was followed by his poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. If he is to reverse this latest trend back toward Romney, he must prevail tonight.

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Debate Roundup: Romney Strikes Back as Gingrich Plays Defense

At the last two debates in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich took charge with stinging attacks on the moderators and on Mitt Romney. But in the first of two Florida debates this week, Romney took the offensive, landing a number of telling blows on Gingrich. For the first time in this series of debates, the former Massachusetts governor didn’t play the frontrunner attempting to rise above the fray with his only focus on Barack Obama. Instead, he zeroed in on Gingrich’s record as a Washington influence peddler and paid advocate. Though at times he tried to turn the tables on Romney, Gingrich was consistently put on the defensive as he tried to defend his record, leaving him few opportunities to score points or to deliver one of his trademark rants at the expense of those hosting the debate.

In the midst of what was one of the most boring of all the GOP debates it was a good night for Romney and may help slow down Gingrich’s momentum. But this was no knockout. Gingrich was on his heels most of the night, but there were no gaffes. Nor is it clear whether merely going on the attack is going to convince conservatives that Romney is their kind of candidate. For all of his aggressiveness and strong arguments about free enterprise, Romney still lacked the ideological passion that helped propel Gingrich back into the lead last week.

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At the last two debates in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich took charge with stinging attacks on the moderators and on Mitt Romney. But in the first of two Florida debates this week, Romney took the offensive, landing a number of telling blows on Gingrich. For the first time in this series of debates, the former Massachusetts governor didn’t play the frontrunner attempting to rise above the fray with his only focus on Barack Obama. Instead, he zeroed in on Gingrich’s record as a Washington influence peddler and paid advocate. Though at times he tried to turn the tables on Romney, Gingrich was consistently put on the defensive as he tried to defend his record, leaving him few opportunities to score points or to deliver one of his trademark rants at the expense of those hosting the debate.

In the midst of what was one of the most boring of all the GOP debates it was a good night for Romney and may help slow down Gingrich’s momentum. But this was no knockout. Gingrich was on his heels most of the night, but there were no gaffes. Nor is it clear whether merely going on the attack is going to convince conservatives that Romney is their kind of candidate. For all of his aggressiveness and strong arguments about free enterprise, Romney still lacked the ideological passion that helped propel Gingrich back into the lead last week.

As for Gingrich, his low-key demeanor may have been as much a matter of calculation as circumstance. Having gotten back on top, he may think he needs to act a bit more presidential in order to convince wavering Republicans he can win. But the price he paid for this more decorous presence was a low-key presentation that betrayed little of the emotion or fire that conservatives like.

It will be interesting to see whether the recent tilt toward Gingrich can withstand the heightened exposure given to the candidate’s foibles and record. One could argue that if Republicans haven’t cared that much about the Freddie Mac issue or Gingrich’s chaotic leadership while he was speaker of the House up until now, then why should they start taking it seriously now? Nevertheless, Gingrich’s less than satisfactory answers may help chip away at his lead. If the polls show any tilt back in Romney’s direction in the next two days, expect Gingrich to go back to breathing fire at the next debate Thursday night.

Rick Santorum was also on his game, landing some strong punches of his own, especially when he claimed both Gingrich and Romney were relative liberals when compared to him on health care and cap and trade. But with the focus so much on the two top candidates, he struggled at times to get a word in edgewise. Though Santorum needed something to happen to get back into contention, the debate reflected the current state of the race in that at times he seemed as much of an afterthought as libertarian outlier Ron Paul.

It will be interesting to see if Romney can sustain an entire week of going on the offensive, as it is so out of character for him. Nevertheless, the debate was at the very least the first step on the road to a comeback for Romney. He has a long way to go, but unless he keeps it up, there will be no stopping Gingrich in Florida. That means Romney’s presidential hopes are riding on his ability to sustain this aggressive spirit.

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