Mitt Romney finally did what conservatives were begging him to do -- he aggressively attacked the surging Gingrich in Monday's debate. But it wasn't enough to get rid of a sense of dread in the GOP: now Newt Gingrich may be the nominee. Which is why The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol declares the winner of the debate to be Mitch Daniels -- the Indiana governor who is short, bald, and said he wouldn't run for president. "If Mitch Daniels’s effective tax rate is 30 percent rather than 15 percent, and if he was never paid $1.6 million by Freddie Mac, he can be the next president," Kristol writes. At The Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens is grimmer: "The GOP Deserves to Lose." He argues that Americans are ready to get rid of President Obama, he writes, and "All they need is to be reasonably sure that the alternative won't be another fiasco." Alas, the Republican candidates cannot assure them of that.
Florida promises to be attack-ad "armageddon," Politico's Alexander Burns and Robin Bravender report. Gingrich's Florida campaign co-chair, Rich Crotty, told Politico, “I think there is a sense — particularly if the winner of South Carolina wins this — that a lot of the establishment elected officials and Republican leadership that got behind Romney early see this slipping away from them." On ABC's World News, George Stephanopoulos reported, "I spoke to several top Republican strategists today, and most of these people do not want Newt Gingrich to be the nominee. But for the first time, they're starting to believe it actually can happen. It begins for Newt if he gets a win in Florida in just over a week." The New York Times' Nate Silver now gives Gingrich an 81 percent chance of winning the Sunshine State, and says that the establishment's support of Romney might be waning.
The sense of doom is apparent. "The only spectacle in American politics more off-putting than Newt Gingrich in self-righteous defense mode is Mitt Romney in self-righteous attack mode," Kristol wrote. The Weekly Standard's Stephen F. Hayes says both Gingrich and Romney undercut the argument for their candidacies -- Gingrich by saying he's the true conservative yet passionately defending government-sponsored enterprises, Romney by offering a weak response when asked why he'd done to advance conservatism (start a family, run a business, run Massachusetts). Stephens complains, "The former Massachusetts governor is nothing if not a scripted politician, and the least one can ask of such people is that they should know their lines by heart." If Obama is reelected, he says, "the U.S. will surely survive four more years. Who knows? By then maybe Republicans will have figured out that if they don't want to lose, they shouldn't run with losers." National Review's Jonah Goldberg writes, "Ultimately, Romney probably won narrowly in a boring debate in which no one was very bad. Not good enough, I don’t think."