GOP debate: Killer Mitt vs. President Newt
The theme of Monday's Republican presidential debate was a classic dramatic device: role reversal -- or, to be snarky, cross-dressing.
Mitt Romney lost in South Carolina last week, we're told, because he wasn't combative enough. So his mission in Florida, it appears, is to turn into Killer Mitt. Romney spent much of his time in Monday's debate throwing big roundhouse punches at Newt Gingrich. "You can call it anything you like," Romney said of Gingrich's $1.6-million contract with Freddie Mac. "I call it influence peddling."
Gingrich won in South Carolina by being ferocious -- so his goal in Florida is to be relatively mild. Gingrich now wants to show us Presidential Newt, a statesman who won't descend to mud-slinging. "I have never, ever gone and done any lobbying," he said solemnly, an assertion that reporters will spend weeks picking apart. As for Romney's specific charges, Gingrich said he wouldn't even bother to rebut them; anyone seeking that kind of muck would have to go to his website, newt.org.
It was an uneven contest. Romney seemed tentative in the role of attack dog. Gingrich, who glories in his skill as a debater, used every tool in his kit. When Romney accused him of lobbying in favor of the expensive Medicare prescription drug program, Gingrich turned the issue around, courageously telling Florida's armies of senior citizens: "I am proud of the fact that I publicly, openly advocated Medicare Part D."
How confident did Gingrich look? So confident that, for the first time in memory, he didn't bother to attack the moderator or the news media.
Rep. Ron Paul and former Sen. Rick Santorum were also present, but they hardly got a word in edgewise. As far as the elite national media are concerned, it's a two-man race now: Killer Mitt vs. President Newt.
Photo: Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich participate a GOP debate held at the University of South Florida on Jan. 23. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images