What Florida Means
Our experts weigh in on the result, and the road ahead.

Newt Gingrich addresses his supporters in Orlando following his Florida defeat, January 31, 2012.


What a difference a week can make in the life of an American political campaign! The debates were a gift to Newt Gingrich, until they weren’t. The former speaker of the House had his chance to be the alternative to Romney — as it is so cynically put — and he lost it; he lost it disgracefully. As far as I’m concerned, given the shamelessness of his final attacks on Romney, Gingrich cannot drop out soon enough. As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney was an ally to those of us who care about the conscience rights of Americans, vetoing a bill that he took a lot of flak for, and articulating his position well.

I’ve loved some of the opportunities to educate voters that Gingrich has taken over the course of this campaign — particularly on the matter of religious liberty. But he did himself, the primary process, and the truth a real disservice this week. 

Rick Santorum, meanwhile, has honorably articulated some serious concerns held by conservatives. When he criticized Romney on health care, as he did in the last debates, he gave voice to these worries and raised an important question: Does nominee Romney take health-care off the table as an issue? 

This race isn’t over, but there are well-earned sighs of relief coming from the Romney campaign this morning. Mitt Romney showed his relief in a good victory speech last night, in which he managed to hit notes of optimism, without relying on lines that sounded as they had been produced by a consultant, or reciting patriotic lyrics that feed a narrative about his inauthenticity.

If there is to be a challenger left in this nomination fight, I hope the field clears for Santorum to be that fair and hard-working man.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.

As a historian, Newt Gingrich is surely familiar with the old saw, “Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?” That’s about the way he’ll have to approach the Florida primary results. This was a shellacking of the highest order, and it takes a very self-confident man to see any glimmers of hope from the wreckage.

Mitt Romney was dominant almost everywhere. He won Hispanics by a very large margin, carried all regions of the state except the rural counties in North and Central Florida, and even won among all age and income groups for the first time in the campaign. While Romney’s support still rises with income, peaking at over 60 percent among those earning over $200,000 a year, he finally showed he could carry the middle class by decisive margins.

Above all, this was a referendum on Newt Gingrich, and the response was deafening. It would be easy to take the brutal personal attacks, personally, and lash out in kind in the coming weeks. But a candidate who keeps his eye on the prize will look at the GOP kingmakers, somewhat-conservative voters, and resist that temptation. These voters broke for Newt in South Carolina and Mitt in Florida — they always pick the winner in GOP contests. They want someone who is conservative enough, but is also a leader with experience and judgment. Talking about Moon colonies and attacking Romney on Bain Capital is not the way to win them over. Instead, Gingrich needs to draw a steady contrast by chipping away at Romney’s conservative bona fides and raising questions about his judgment in office. Playing to the party base with angry, overheated appeals is a sure fire way to become an afterthought very quickly.

— Henry Olsen is director of the American Enterprise Institute’s National Research Initiative.