Romney Pounds Gingrich in the Final Debate Before the Florida Primary

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Jan. 27 2012 12:31 AM

Romney Fights Back

Mitt pounds Newt in the final debate before the Florida primary. Will it be enough?

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The pressure was so relentless that Gingrich, one of the great exaggerators in politics, was accusing Romney of using that tactic. I assume in the Romney debate camp they took it as a compliment.

It was not a universally good night for Romney, though. He denied that he was running an ad that his campaign was, in fact, running. In the radio ad, he accuses Gingrich of calling Spanish a “ghetto language.” When Wolf Blitzer pointed out that Romney had actually said at the end of the ad "I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this message," Romney mumbled. For the audience at home it was probably confusing, but Romney looked like he was weaseling, not owning up to his words. He also sounded like he was ducking when talking about how his investments are in a blind trust he doesn't control. True, perhaps (though some accounts he does see), but it doesn't sound good. When Romney in response to Santorum's passionate critique of his health care plan said, "It's not worth getting angry about," you could hear those conservatives who have doubts about him say ... and that's our problem with you.

Newt Gingrich had a floppy night. It wasn't because the audience was prohibited from cheering. They just didn't cheer much for him. He didn't seem to have a game plan. Backed into a corner at one point, he said smugly to Romney, "I'll give you an opportunity to self-destruct." It didn't work. 

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He was even the least effective attacker of the media. He had to follow on after Rick Santorum had interrupted the bickering of the front-runners to call for a return to the issues. Gingrich tried to echo him, arguing that it was OK to attack Romney for his tax returns in a TV interview but "nonsense" to try to get him to talk about it during the debate—a theory that is itself nonsense. Moderator Wolf Blitzer stood his ground. For a man who has profited from the debates and promises to whup Obama in the debates, to shrink from repeating onstage what he says in interviews was confusing and weak. 

Rick Santorum had another strong night. If you were judging in a vacuum, you could make the case that he had the best performance. He repeated his claim that he was the best person to debate health care reform with Barack Obama because he had not flirted with the individual mandate. "Folks, we can't give this issue away in this election. Those are not the clear contrasts we need if we are going to beat Barack Obama." Santorum's problem is that he doesn't have the money to run ads in the state and his debate performance, while strong, won't be enough to start a brushfire. 

Ron Paul has been increasingly impish in the last few debates. Tonight he was piercing and funny. He had a quip for everything. What would you do if Fidel Castro called, he was asked. "I'd talk to him," he said, not joining the other Republican candidates in pre-assigning Castro to different kinds of hell. In discussing the possibility of exploring the moon, he suggested sending some politicians there.