Published January 26, 2012
This was one of the most brutal weeks for the remaining GOP candidates in what has become the Republican version of “Survivor.” It started with a rather dull, but civilized debate Monday evening on NBC. Newt Gingrich tried to show he could appear Presidential and be above the fray Newt Gingrich tried to show he could appear presidential and be above the fray. Mitt Romney tried to show that he could box a little (Marquis of Queensbury rules) and bloodied Gingrich's nose. Paul and Santorum were smart but didn't seem as relevant.
The auditorium had barely emptied out when all hell broke loose between the two front-runners, Mitt and Newt.
I've seen a lot of political battles in my four decades around campaigns. The one between Romney and Gingrich is about as angry and irrelevant as any I have seen. As the polls narrowed and showed the race nearly even in Florida, the battle was waged.
The gloves were dropped, and then the knives came out. When they didn’t cut deep enough, the guns blazed until there were no more shells to fire. (Then out came the hand grenades).
All week long, millions of dollars in negative ads have polluted the airwaves and probably misinformed voters about the real issues and history of the candidates.
Romney tried to diminish Gingrich’s claims to Ronald Reagan and his legacy. This from a guy who didn’t even become a Republican until 1994. As someone who was there in the Reagan White House and on his campaign, I can say that Newt was a strong ally and early supporter of President Reagan. Mitt Romney wasn't even on the political scene at that time. But let's move on. This election needs to be about the future and President Obama.
Tonight's CNN debate was widely anticipated. Many thought it could give one of the front-runners that last bit of momentum needed to pull off a victory. Would Gingrich return to his combative form and punch back at Romney? Would Romney continue his consistent and effective style? Would Paul or Santorum matter?
For whatever reason, this debate didn't live up to expectations. The answers were fine. There were no major mistakes and there were also no fireworks. No one walked off the stage as the victor. Romney had a good night and Newt seemed a little subdued. He did not repeat his extraordinary performance at the South Carolina debate which he might have needed to do. Paul continues to be entertaining and Santorum performed at a high level once again.
But undecided Florida voters will have to find something other than this debate to make up their minds. Maybe we are all a little fatigued. After all, this was the 19th GOP debate. Obviously we have four more days before Floridians vote. The winner will surely get a burst of momentum, but the losers will keep going since after the Florida contest only 5 percent of the delegates will have been chosen.
We still have a long way to go.
Ed Rollins is a Fox News contributor. He is a former assistant to President Ronald Reagan and managed his reelection campaign. He is a senior presidential fellow at Hofstra University and is in the Political Consultants Hall of Fame.