(Image:  Washington Times)

The last debate before Tuesday’s Florida primary might have cleaned up a few things. 

After a debate where no applause or hollering was allowed, Newt Gingrich was clearly off his game.  Audience participation was permitted in Thursday’s debate but the jig might be up on Gingrich. 

Gingrich’s recent surge has been partially fueled by his treatment of debate moderators.  Of course, none of this necessarily had much to do with any specific policy proposals of Gingrich’s.  The Republican Right has so descended into name-calling that verbally slapping down snarky moderators has been substituted for thinking

Mitt Romney had his own stumbles but they probably won’t prove too enduring.  He was caught with an ad where he quotes Gingrich saying “Spanish is the language of the ghetto,” which wasn’t exactly right but still conveyed the message.  But where Romney really nailed Gingrich on immigration was with his line that the problem isn’t 11 million grandmothers and that set the tone for the entire evening.  So even when Romney got caught with a not-quite-lie, he still left Gingrich on the short end.  Although it’s rich to see Mitt Romney accusing anyone of pandering to a crowd, Newt’s baggage may end up outweighing Romney’s flip-flops. 

It may be too late in this campaign to make a difference but it will be interesting to see if Romney’s record of voting for Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Massachusetts Democratic primary will ever become a major issue for Republicans. 

Romney says now that he wasn’t particularly interested in politics as a young man.  He says this to clean up his statements that he was an independent in the 1980’s and wasn’t looking to return to Reagan-Bush when he was running for senate in 1994.  This is a hard pill to swallow.  It’s not as though George Romney was a governor and presidential candidate himself.  On Thursday Mitt clarified his vote on Tsongas that he likes to vote against Clinton and Kennedy any chance he gets. 

The only problem with this part of the story is that when Massachusetts held its primary on Super Tuesday in 1992, Bill Clinton was not yet the Great Satan to Republicans and Super Tuesday was the day Clinton took the delegate lead.  He had already been dubbed “The Comeback Kid,” but he was still a relatively unknown quantity at the time.  It would have required a highly tuned political observer to see what Clinton represented and for someone who says he wasn’t particularly political, as he claims about this period of his life, this is a stretch.  And . . . it’s not as though there wasn’t a Republican primary that day either.  Pat Buchanan was contesting President George H. W. Bush. 

In a twist of irony, Ron Paul probably had one of his best performances on Thursday, and it was in a state where he is not heavily invested.  He didn’t really get too tongue-tied as he often does even while repeating talking points that aren’t exactly crowd pleasers, such as opening relations with Cuba.  He was practically loose and when Romney was pressed on whether he agreed with Paul’s proposed policies he took both sides:  continuing the status quo of sanctions but no military intervention.  He and Gingrich were complimenting Ron Paul so much one might think they were trying to talk their way onto his presidential ticket.  What this says is that they’re not afraid of him, at least not right now, and they want his supporters once the general election comes. 

Rick Santorum was his usual thick-headed self when it came to his fantasy about an Iranian presence in Venezuela and the purported selling out of Honduras in their 2009 succession struggle.  The British Tory Lord Salisbury allegedly said that the commonest error in politics is sticking to the carcasses of dead policies.  If there is any candidate who best embodies this saying it is Rick Santorum, except someone needs to update the axiom to include politicians who not only stick to dead policies but try to graft them onto new, worse ones in the way Santorum conflates the Cold War with the War on Terror. 

After claiming a steady lead in Florida following his South Carolina win, it’s hard to see Gingrich winning the Sunshine State now.  Two lackluster debate performances, fallout from his second wife, a torrent of negativity from the right, and his bizarre obsession with making a moon state may finally do in Gingrich.  A Romney win in Florida doesn’t necessary give him the nomination but it may commence the ultimate deflation of the Gingrich blimp.

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Carl Wicklander
Carl Wicklander is a regular contributor to humblelibertarian.com. He lives in Illinois with his wife.

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