I have a perfect record in not watching the GOP debates, so here’s what other people are saying about the one last night over in Tampa.
Josh Marshall at TPM:
My basic read is that the debate all happened in the first 20 or 30 minutes. Romney was brutal and totally on message, hitting a series of key attack lines where Gingrich is just extremely vulnerable. But then Newt came back and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him quite as on his game as his was tonight. He didn’t get a chance to have one of those Newt explosion minutes. But just for rolling with the punches, finding openings to get right back in Mitt’s face and more than anything playing that frontrunner card which must have driven Mitt to distraction. Watching it I remember thinking, wow, this is a sort of an amazing moment just in terms of political theatrics because both of them really brought their A games, both of which are very different things.
By the end of the exchange, Romney started to get under Newt’s skin. There were a few moments where Newt almost seemed speechless. He had that moment when he grabbed on to the lifeline of defending Medicare in Florida, which is actually quite a lifeline. But that whole part of the debate ended just as Newt looked like he might be getting wobbly.
The other big part of the debate is that Brian Williams just played the whole thing so close to the vest and right that he didn’t give Gingrich any opportunity to have a newtplosion. But I’m not quite sure he wanted one. Or rather I get the sense his advisors told him he didn’t need or another or maybe it was time to pass on it. He’s the frontrunner now.
So this is Newt on his best behavior. Even when Romney called him a “disgrace” three times.
Maybe Gingrich is trying to reassure the establishment that he is not the constant bomb-thrower and surprise agent. Maybe he realizes he needs to look more presidential. My own take is that this gambit cannot work for Newt. He is not a serene statesman. He’s a ferocious demagogue. That’s all he knows. I don’t find the new Newt very appealing. But maybe tactically, it makes sense.
As for Romney, he was back on form, but also oddly Romney-esque. The crude and dumb attacks on Obama remained. The occasional weirdness – why is he so proud that Ted Kennedy took out a new mortgage? why brag that he’d pay no taxes under Newt’s tax plan? – endured. The confidence returned, but still no character and no personality to engage with.
So if you were wondering when they would get around to talking about substance and issues that actually matter to voters here in Florida or anywhere else, you were watching the wrong channel. You would have been better off watching the voodoo lady on public access.