West Palm Beach, Florida - Even Newt Gingrich's biggest fans would say Thursday night wasn't his most commanding performance. But as he landed in Miami during the wee hours of Friday morning, Gingrich said to reporters, "In the morning you will know why it was a great moment."
And so it began on Friday -- in a orchestrated rollout that was curiously slow, at least in Gingrich time, given his habit of generating headlines every hour -- with a press release announcing the campaign would be airing a TV ad accusing Mitt Romney of being a "dishonest man" about his blind trust, voting history, and negative ads." The ad, cut, shipped, and aired on Friday, featured moments from the debate as if to add asterisks to Thursday night's face-off.' Gingrich made lukewarm attacks against the frontrunner in his public appearances but saved his harshest words for high-profile one-on-one chats.
"Mitt was so systematically dishonest," Gingrich told Greta Van Susteren in a taped interview on his bus that would air Friday during primetime.
"Is that lying?" Van Susteren asked.
"Well, I'll let you decide," Gingrich said. "But he -- the easiest example is he said that he only voted for Tsongas in the Democratic primary because there was no Republican primary. And during the debate, Larry Sabato tweeted that that was baloney, that, in fact, George H. W. Bush and Pat Buchanan were on the very same day."
"Could he have just a faulty memory?" she pressed.
"Well, he's said enough different things that it strikes me as implausible. I think -- I think that the governor says what he needs to say to get through this minute without remembering that there's a tomorrow."
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond, who immediately after the debate had avoided answering reporters directly about his candidate's demeanor on stage, said on Friday, "There were moments where Newt was actually sticking his head down, kind of looked down at his feet and paused. Everyone's like, ‘Oh gee, why isn't the very aggressive Gingrich hitting back? I asked him afterwards, ‘What were you doing.' He said, ‘I was just shocked he would lie that much.'"
"I'd find myself standing there, going, ‘That can't be true.'" Gingrich told Van Susteren. " And he said it again and again. And in fact, by the time the debate was over, there were various fact checkers -- you saw one of them live, Wolf Blitzer said to him, ‘That is your ad, your voice is on it.'"
Message control has never been the candidate's forte. Taking both the low road attacking Romney and high road in calling for a truce, Gingrich boxed himself in at the debate. But if Gingrich's buoyant dreams for a win in Florida seemed to billow down to earth Thursday night after the lackluster performance and if the campaign found itself faced with an existential question -- could the man who had made a case for the nomination by arguing he was the best debater in the general election continue to run on that platform - the candidate appeared ready to answer why he didn't fight back.
"I think you have to, as a potential president, maintain a standard of dignity, or people think you're not capable of being president," Gingrich said on Fox News, having been characterized as being erratic by critics.
"Believe me, if I thought someone was doing me wrong, I was not collegial. I would be in that person's face," Van Susteren said to him.
"People want a sense of stability because the level of power we give presidents is so great that you want a sense of -- this is a person -- it's a little bit like hiring a school bus driver," Gingrich said as they rode on the bus in the interview. "You don't want to hire a person who might take the bus off a cliff. You want to hire a person who's going to be safe with your children. Well, the president, in that sense, has 305 million people to be safe with."