The big news from Monday’s debate in Florida was a decidedly more offensive minded Mitt Romney. He attacked Newt Gingrich numerous times from the start for his role as a “historical consultant” for Freddie Mac and for “influence peddling” on some other occasions in relation to his consulting work in the healthcare sector.
Mr. Gingrich quickly refuted the claims saying first, “It’s not correct Mitt, and I’m saying this publicly because you’ve been walking around this state saying things that are untrue, it is not correct to describe public citizenship… as lobbying. Every citizen has that right.”
Romney’s response? “Here’s why it’s a problem. If you’re getting paid by health companies that could benefit by a piece of legislation, and you then meet with Republican congressmen, and encourage them to support that legislation, you can call it whatever you like, I call it influence peddling.”
Monday’s debate was mellower than past debates due to a request by moderator NBC’s Brian Williams to hold applause til the end, and a crowd of only 500 subdued spectators (maybe they were all Mormon missionaries?)
Whatever it was, the quiet seemed to set in sharp relief the new, more aggressive Mitt Romney. In another moment, Romney went after Mr. Gingrich’s leadership record saying, “You are looking for a person who can lead this country at a very critical time. The speaker was given the opportunity to be the leader of our party in 1994, and after four years he resigned in disgrace.”
Gingrich didn’t seem interested in a fight, choosing instead to put away the bombastic Newt of past battles, clearly hoping to show a softer, more measured face now that he’s clearly in the running. “I’m not going to spend the evening trying to chase Governor Romney’s misinformation,” Mr. Gingrich said, “I think the American public deserves a discussion about how to beat Barack Obama.”
Ron Paul was given very little facetime but he did manage to get the biggest laugh of the night, saying “Unlike others, maybe they should run and daydream about being in the White House,” referring to a comment he made about not dreaming about being in the oval office. “I just don’t sit around daydreaming about it, but I’m in the race and I’m in a good race.”
The best attack of the night may have come from Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum as he characterized both Romney’s and Gingrich’s unwillingness to stand up against bank bailouts and individual health mandates by buckling under pressure from liberals. “When push came to shove, they got pushed,” Mr. Santorum said. “They rejected conservatism when it was hard to stand.”
Though Santorum and Paul help to fill a stage, it’s becoming increasingly clear this is a two-man race at this point and Mitt Romney seems to have activated “plan B” in Florida by taking a more aggressive stance. Only the coming polls will show if it is having the desired effect.