The GOP’s former House speaker failed to fire up the audience and allowed his chief rival Mitt Romney to land some solid blows in last night’s Republican presidential nomination debate on CNN. The two are locked in a neck-and-neck race for Florida’s GOP delegates in next Tuesday’s primary, and Gingrich tried to duplicate the success he has had in earlier debates.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, parried Gingrich’s rhetorical thrusts and showed that, on that night, he was the better debater. Romney caught Gingrich— who had displayed a mastery of debating skills in previous debates—flat-footed on several occasions. Romney’s attacks hit their marks as he attempted to regain momentum after losing in South Carolina last Saturday.
Gingrich has fared well with support from hard-right conservatives among the audiences of earlier debates by attacking the moderators. In fact, these attacks seem to have been the best thing he had going for him in South Carolina.
He did try the tactic again last night. His effort to chastise CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer over a question about Romney’s tax disclosures, however, fell flat. Blitzer stood his ground, insisting Gingrich explain a comment he had made. Moreover, unlike in other debates, the audience did not seem to warm as easily to Gingrich.
At one point, Gingrich was mocked by Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul for saying on Wednesday that if elected president he would build a permanent colony on the moon.
From where I sat: no knockout punch perhaps, but Gingrich clearly had a bloody nose and Romney had bruised knuckles.