When asked about his electability, Newt invoked Ronald Reagan, who was once thought unelectable — his first invocation of Reagan during the debate last night. If Mitt Romney were a yard dog, he might have fired back, “Hey, Newt, whose record are you running on — yours or Ronald Reagan’s?”
Mitt Romney is not a yard dog. But he did a damned good job at the debate anyway, turning in a winning performance after his abysmal one in South Carolina. He laid several gloves on Newt, and Newt — who wore a nasty facial expression most of the night — knew it. There were some good policy moments, but this show was mostly the Newt–Mitt faceoff to try to determine the outcome in Florida.
While Romney couldn’t get by with a line like “pious baloney,” he was nevertheless effective, persistent, and impressive in painting Gingrich as an “unreliable leader” (the theme of Romney’s new ad campaign), twice noting that Gingrich had left the House “in disgrace.” Romney also scored when he pointed out that the just-released contract for one of the years Gingrich was paid by Freddie Mac was negotiated by the lobbying department — and that the word “historian” was nowhere to be found in that document. Romney said that Newt may claim Freddie was paying him for his historical insights, but “I call it influence-peddling.”
When Gingrich, in response to a question about his advocacy of the Medicare prescription-drugs plan, tried to deflect the question by portraying himself as a citizen crusader, Romney punctured him by noting that he was being paid for his citizen’s advocacy by pharmaceutical companies.
“I’m not going to spend this evening chasing down Mr. Romney’s misinformation,” Gingrich said lamely, referring viewers to a website, the default position for trapped politicians. Still, sometimes, it is sheer joy watching Newt take a question, turn it around, and frame an answer. When, for example, NBC’s Brian Williams asked him whether the American people had the stomach for war with Iran, Gingrich replied that the American people hadn’t initially had the stomach for the Second World War, or to go after terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 — but we ended up doing what we had to do.
A reckless, pro-Newt mantra these days is, “But wouldn’t you pay a million dollars to watch Newt debate Obama?” Yeah, you might have a hell of a night, but you wouldn’t like yourself much in the morning.