Tuesday, January 31, 2012


By William McGurn
Wall Street Journal
January 31, 2012

It looks like it's all over in Florida. Even before the voting has begun in Tuesday's primary, polls show Mitt Romney with a comfortable lead. If the former Massachusetts governor wins by a respectable margin, it would be completely understandable to take it as confirmation that he needs to stick with his campaign strategy.

It would also be a colossal mistake.

At least since South Carolina, Mr. Romney has been laboring under the assumption that his most serious challenge is to defeat Newt Gingrich. It's not. Mr. Gingrich's viability after months of also-ran status owes itself almost entirely to Mr. Romney's glaring weaknesses. The governor's challenge is not merely to best Mr. Gingrich but to do so in a way that addresses those weaknesses.

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GOP voters know all about Mr. Gingrich's dirty laundry. What attracts them, especially in the debates, is that they see him taking the fight to all the people they oppose: liberal Democrats, the liberal press, and squishy Republicans afraid to challenge either with conservative ideas.

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(W)hile Mr. Romney may win Florida, dusting off Bob Dole to launch an assault on Mr. Gingrich's character will do nothing to kill the larger threat from the Newt insurgency.

That's because at bottom the Newt insurgency is fueled by the sense that Mr. Romney's tepid policy agenda reflects no fixed beliefs. Many who support Mr. Gingrich will concede he is not their ideal candidate. In fact, it's telling that Mr. Romney's GOP rivals are defined as non-Romneys, each standing for something lacking in the front-runner.

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In the end, the arguments for Mr. Romney come down to this: He has executive experience in both business and government, he's got the most money and the best organization, and he's electable. They are good points. Still, they add up to one argument by résumé and two from process.

Those of us who believed that a primary fight would toughen Mr. Romney up have little to show for it. Far from sharpening his proposals to reach out to a GOP electorate hungry for a candidate with a bold conservative agenda, Mr. Romney has limited his new toughness to increasingly negative attacks on Mr. Gingrich's character. It's beginning to make what we all assumed was a weakness look much more like arrogance.

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