Republican Debate: Newt’s Curiously Bloodless Performance
Gingrich turned in an uncharacteristically restrained performance at the Tampa debate. Michelle Cottle on why without his trademark smugness, Newt packs a light punch.
Best line of the evening: “Cane sugar hides behind beet sugar.”
If that bit of Newtonian wisdom left you scratching your head, don’t feel bad. Gingrich’s entire debate performance Monday night was a bit perplexing. Why was he so restrained? Where was the snarling badger? Why didn’t he rip out Romney’s throat when the governor was shoving Freddie Mac down his? Was he depressed? Had he and Callista had a fight?
Doesn’t the former Speaker realize that without his characteristic bombast, condescension, and smugness he is nothing more than a doughy third-rate historian with a checkered personal life and a geeky obsession with space travel?
It wasn’t just Newt. All of the debaters toned it down—including the perpetually spastic Ron Paul.
Even when Romney and Gingrich went at each other, they kept it relatively civil. Punches were thrown—especially by Mitt, who took a few hard swings early on—but no one got terribly heated or started frothing at the mouth. And when Romney is the most electric guy on stage, you know something odd is afoot.
Maybe the combatants are worn out. Florida’s a big state, and it’s hard getting to all those early-bird all-you-can-eat buffets. Or maybe, after 176 of these blather fests, even the candidates are tired of hearing themselves talk.
The only guy on stage who seemed up to the task tonight? Brian Williams. Not that the NBC anchor had a high hurdle to clear in distinguishing himself: at last a moderator who wasn’t a total embarrassment!
Full disclosure: I’m madly in love with Williams. But you don’t have to agree that he is the most charming creature on the planet to appreciate his ability to keep these squabbling children largely on track, but also to let them off the leash now and again when the occasion merited. (The extended Mitt-Newt volley over Gingrich’s distinguished history of “influence peddling” may have been the high point of the evening.) If nothing else, it is a testament to William’s gravitas that, for the first time in God knows how long, Gingrich made it through an entire debate without finding an excuse to turn the evening into an anti-media hissy fit.
As a result, Newt found himself actually grappling with some of the unflattering accusations his opponents were hurling. And, on the whole, he didn’t do very well. (My favorite moment: when Ron Paul laughed off Newt’s absurdly revisionist claim that he had selflessly urged his fellow House members not to reelect him speaker.)
But this just means whoever’s moderating Thursday’s cage match had better brace themselves. Newt’s emotional pendulum is likely to have swung to the opposite extreme by then, and he’ll be out for blood.