Analysis and reaction to the GOP presidential debate in Tampa

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Tim Alberta likens Newt Gingrich to a stand-up comedian whose routine suffers without echoes of laughter egging him on.

David Brody: “Romney was very much on the offensive tonight as he landed subtle punch after punch on Gingrich’s record of leadership and attempting to paint him as a Washington insider. It’s a smart play by Romney and a strategy that he must implore. If Romney can paint Gingrich as your typical influence peddling same old politician then voters will be turned off and Romney will probably see himself on top again very soon. So this is an important battle. The problem for Romney is that Gingrich has SO FAR been able to masterfully turn his insider image into this outsider man of the people.”

Buzzfeed Politics focuses on Mitt and Newt’s long back-and-forth:

Gingrich offered proof that he didn’t lobby: He’s hired a lobbying expert. Actually, that proves the opposite. … [T]he reason you bring in an expert on the complicated law isn’t to avoid influence-peddling. It’s to avoid having to register.

The Miami Herald‘s Marc Caputo says say goodbye to Mr. Nice Guy Mitt.

Mitt Romney on Monday night came with verbal knives for newly minted frontrunner Newt Gingrich. Foreshadowing the tone of Republican races in Florida, Romney was negative all day.

Robert Costa isn’t convinced that Gingrich is like McCain:

Gingrich’s strengths, of course, are different from those that elevated McCain. And their experiences have light overlaps, if that; both stumbled in the summer, and lost advisers. But McCain, unlike Gingrich, was always considered a plausible nominee.

Tampa Bay Times TV critic Eric Deggans thinks moderator Brian Williams did a decent job by not becoming part of the news story:

Perhaps learning from how the candidate benefited from tangling with Fox News and CNN anchors in past debates, NBC’s Brian Williams wisely kicked off tonight’s GOP debate in Florida by reminding Newt Gingrich of what his biggest rival said about him on the stump.

Rod Dreher gives Romney the win:

You could have turned this thing off after the first 25 minutes. Romney knifed him early on, and Gingrich never really recovered. But Romney failed to continue the momentum he built up against Gingrich. I think Romney won this thing, but not by much. They all looked second-rate tonight.

Ron Fournier thinks “Angry Newt” took the night off:

In a striking role reversal, Newt Gingrich looked more like a firefly than a firebrand in a high-stakes debate Monday night, while rival Mitt Romney called the surging former House Speaker a disgraced, influence-peddling, Washington insider.

Jonah Goldberg says the most boring guy won the most boring debate:

Romney did well. But he had few great moments and some very weak ones.

For instance, his answer on what he did for conservatism was very bad. He began with: I raised a family! I started a business! Well, there are lots of liberals who raised families and started businesses. Those are admirable things but they have nothing to do with advancing conservatism.

Hugh Hewitt piles on:

Newt got hammered.  The lobbying/influence peddling line of attacks from Romney cues new and old media for the next three days.  What did he do, when did he do it, for whom, and for how much?

Aaron Goldstein says the silent audience hurt Newt:

The debate audiences at NBC, CBS and ABC behave like they’re at a tennis match. The audiences at Fox News and CNN are far more expressive and that works to Newt’s advantage. A sedate audience like the one tonight at NBC doesn’t play to Newt’s strengths. I suspect Newt will fare better at Thursday night’s debate which airs on CNN. What will also help him is that the debate is co-sponsored by the Hispanic Leadership Network and Newt is perceived as more sympathetic to Hispanics than Romney.

Alana Goodman looks to Romney’s “get Gingrich” advertising strategy:

Back in Iowa, Romney kept his hands clean for the most part, letting his Super PAC and an occasional campaign surrogate do the mud-slinging against Newt. This marks the first time Romney has personally taken such direct shots at Gingrich on the campaign trail.

According to Politico, this is part of a massive, $10 million Romney campaign assault on Gingrich, which will attack the former speaker’s character, lack of leadership skills, and negative reputation with his former colleagues on the Hill…Gingrich’s susceptibility to negative attacks was highlighted in Iowa. Weeks of ads blasting his lack of conservative credentials and work with Freddie Mac wore away at his poll numbers significantly. But because his surge came so suddenly in South Carolina, the Romney campaign did not have a chance to make a similar case against him in the state. Clearly, they’re not going to let themselves miss the same opportunity in Florida.

Quin Hillyer thinks this was Gingrich’s worst debate since June:

He got hit repeatedly without parrying the hits all that well. On the other hand, nobody really knocked him out, and even an off night for him is still mostly competent — so his “loss” tonight wasn’t a bad one.

Josh Marshall:

My basic read is that the debate all happened in the first 20 or 30 minutes. Romney was brutal and totally on message, hitting a series of key attack lines where Gingrich is just extremely vulnerable. But then Newt came back and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him quite as on his game as his was tonight. He didn’t get a chance to have one of those Newt explosion minutes. But just for rolling with the punches, finding openings to get right back in Mitt’s face and more than anything playing that frontrunner card which must have driven Mitt to distraction. Watching it I remember thinking, wow, this is a sort of an amazing moment just in terms of political theatrics because both of them really brought their A games, both of which are very different things.

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith today issued the following statement in response to tonight’s GOP presidential debate.

“This isn’t a race to the White House, it’s a race to the right. Democrats should consider sponsoring debates because the more voters learn about Mitt Romney and the GOP, the less they like them. This field has madeclear they want to continue with giveaways to millionaires and billionaires at the expense of Florida’s middle class families. Moreover, I agree with both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney; neither deserve to be President.”

Ewen MacAskill analyzes Newt’s Cuba answer:

Gingrich’s tough, traditional line on Cuba will go down well with older Cubans especially his cheap jibe that Castro will not be going to heaven but hell. But young voters of Cuban descent, according to the polls, do not share the idea of confrontation with Cuba and will be more sympathetic to Paul’s line that the US embargo has propped up Castro for four decades and it would be better to have open relations with Cuba, especially trade, a sentiment that would be cheered by many on the left.

Andrew Sullivan: “What a different Gingrich tonight: eager to thank and support his rivals; humble with respect to the huge challenges ahead. He has decided to cut the fireworks to foil his critics. And I presume his Super PAC will meanwhile open up various cans of whup-ass on Romney. So this is Newt on his best behavior. Even when Romney called him a ‘disgrace’ three times. Maybe Gingrich is trying to reassure the establishment that he is not the constant bomb-thrower and surprise agent. Maybe he realizes he needs to look more presidential. My own take is that this gambit cannot work for Newt. He is not a serene statesman. He’s a ferocious demagogue. That’s all he knows. I don’t find the new Newt very appealing. But maybe tactically, it makes sense.”

Dave Weigel wishes Ron Paul were asked smarter questions about a possible third party candidacy:

Why does Ron Paul constantly get asked if he’ll run third party in 2012 — a hypothetical question he can keep blowing off — and not a historical question. 1) Why did you leave the Republican Party in 1988, and run against its nominee? 2) Why, in 2008, did you endorse three third party candidates, and not John McCain?

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.