Early in Thursday's Republican presidential debate, CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer caught Mitt Romney flatfooted on one of his anti-Gingrich ads. The ad accuses Newt of calling Spanish a "language of the ghetto." What, Blitzer asked Romney, did you mean by that? "I haven't seen the ad, so I'm sorry, I don't get to see all the TV ads," replied Romney. "I doubt that's my ad."
But it is his ad. "We did double check, just now, Governor, that ad that we talked about," said Blitzer. "We double checked. It was one of your ads. It is running here in Florida on the radio, and at the end you say 'I'm Mitt Romney and I approved this ad.'"
The exchange captured what Romney has tried to avoid -- the image of a remote plutocrat working so hard to buy an election he isn't even aware of his own ads.
Establishment pundits will no doubt ooh and ah over Romney's generally confident performance -- CNN informed viewers that he now enjoys the services of a new "debate coach" -- but rank-and-file conservatives should find the prospect of a rising Romney deeply depressing. How is it possible that two years after the Tea Party propelled the GOP back to congressional power Republicans are contemplating a former Paul Tsongas voter as the head of their party?
Gingrich spent too much of the debate responding to attacks rather than making them. He should have used every question as an occasion to remind voters of Romney's liberalism. The best licks on Romney as a liberal ended up coming from Rick Santorum. Training less fire on Gingrich at this debate than at previous ones, Santorum turned his attention to Romney with a sustained broadside against Romneycare. How, Santorum asked, will the GOP be able to argue against the Obamacare mandate with a nominee who hatched the idea? Romney said in reply: "It is not worth getting angry about." Yes, it is.
Romney's tutelage under a new debate coach admittedly bore some fruit. America's immigration problem isn't "11 million grandmothers," he said concisely after Newt had belabored his point about not deporting elderly illegal immigrants.
Newt had his moments in the debate, but he failed to deliver any knockout punches. His knowledge of policy is far more detailed than Romney's, who usually just sticks to his narrow talking points, and Newt's conservative credentials remain far stronger. Romney continues to appear as a more handsome and taller GOP version of Michael Dukakis -- the bloodless and visionless technocrat who, as Newt suggests, just wants to "manage the decay" in Washington, D.C.
Romney's contribution to the Reagan Revolution was nil, as he admitted in a roundabout way to Blitzer. Newt used the same question to remind the audience that Michael Reagan had just endorsed him. Newt added that Nancy Reagan had also conferred upon him her husband's mantle in a past speech.
The Republican establishment has been working overtime to hoodwink GOP voters into overlooking the ideological differences between Romney and Newt, trotting out Big Tenters with zero expertise on conservatism to claim that Newt is not "conservative." Against an immutable standard of conservatism, he is not, but next to Romney he looks like Edmund Burke.
The establishment never fails to choose the more liberal of two leading candidates. The boys from the yacht club have once again decided to lose with a semi-reformed RINO.
If Romney wins the nomination, he will have won largely on personal attacks and a plastic, big-bucks campaign. Some victory.
Ron Paul had one of the most endearingly direct lines in the debate when he said, after a petty back-and-forth between Newt and Mitt that Wolf Blitzer had encouraged, "That subject doesn't really interest me a whole lot." Blitzer seemed determined to ask "nonsense" questions, as Newt put it, circling back several times to now-exhausted tax return and Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac issues. When he wasn't trying to stir up trouble on that front, Blitzer was uncorking cutesy questions about the candidates' wives and an ageist question to Ron Paul about his medical records.
From time to time Blitzer kicked control of the microphone over to "CNN en Español." Modern America doesn't have segregated schools anymore, but it does have segregated channels. Media liberals call this progress.