Well, at least we now know who the frontrunner is. Mitt Romney came out swinging against Newt Gingrich tonight thus showing signs of measured desperation against the new frontrunner: Newt Gingrich.
But you know what? It worked. Romney was relentless.
Romney was very much on the offensive tonight as he landed subtle punch after punch on Gingrich’s record of leadership and attempting to paint him as a Washington insider. It’s a smart play by Romney and a strategy that he must implore. If Romney can paint Gingrich as your typical influence peddling, same old politician, then voters will be turned off and Romney will probably see himself on top again very soon.
So this is an important battle. The problem for Romney is that Gingrich has SO FAR been able to masterfully turn his insider image into this outsider man of the people.
It struck me as odd how Gingrich seemed a little disinterested at first where he didn’t even want to respond to some of the allegations Romney leveled against him. He looked a bit tired and sluggish but maybe most importantly what we saw tonight is that Gingrich needs the crowd to be involved. He feeds off an energetic crowd. Tonight’s relatively silent audience left Gingrich looking a little flat like he was waiting for the applause line that never came.
As for the Romney's tax returns issue, the governor better hope there’s no surprises considering he said there would be, “no surprises.” Romney did slip up slightly when he said, “I’m sure people will talk about it.” David Axelrod will remember that one.
For the most part, Rick Santorum wasn’t in attack mode tonight. Part of it was because the questions didn’t lend themselves to a fight. However, he did have a strong moment toward the end of the debate when he said that both Romney and Gingrich didn’t stand up for conservative principles when it nattered most.
Still, he looked tired and lacked energy. It wasn’t that he said anything wrong or committed any blunders. He rarely does. But he didn’t do anything to move the needle in this debate. He only had one “grandfather reference.” He needs more than that.
As for Ron Paul, his attack on Newt Gingrich’s lack of leadership in the House will get him a thank you note from the Romney campaign but not many more votes in Florida. I believe Dr. Paul can get a non-stop flight to Las Vegas on Southwest tomorrow. The Nevada Caucus is Feb. 4.