Dan, I think one factor missing in your analysis is how much many GOP voters love Newt Gingrich’s rhetorical style. It’s not merely that he’s a superb debater, as you note. It’s also that they appreciate how he doesn’t try to tear down his fellow GOP candidates, but plays the unifying role, reminding everyone how every Republican contender would be a better president than Obama. But they also are excited for the prospect of Obama-Gingrich debates in a way that they simply aren’t about Obama-Romney debates. Gingrich’s gusto in promoting those general election debates, along with cracks about letting Obama use a teleprompter if he agrees to do long, Lincoln-Douglas-style debates, is well-received; it actually got him a standing ovation in Des Moines earlier this month from a very low-energy crowd.
There’s no doubt that Romney is a good debater, and would do well in debates with Obama. But if voters want someone willing to energetically verbally pummel Obama, the sense seems to be that Gingrich would be more game for that.