Mitt Romney sells himself as an expert in crisis management -- he turned around the 2002 Olympics -- and now he has to prove it by managing the crisis that is Newt Gingrich. Although Romney has begun harshly attacking Gingrich for his record in Congress, he caved on his opponent's demand that he release his tax returns, a sign that he knows he's lost his place as the clear frontrunner, The New York Times says. Romney had a huge lead in Florida last week, but a new poll (from Insider Advantage, a robopollster) shows Gingrich ahead. And, perhaps worst of all for Romney, The Wall Street Journal isn't panicking. To the Republican establishment (which the editorial page represents) worried that Newt in unelectable, The Journal calmly says, "Our advice would be to relax and let the voters decide. If Mr. Romney can't marshal the wit and nerve to defeat the speaker, then he isn't likely to defeat Mr. Obama."
So far, the Republican presidential primary has been portrayed as a fight between the angry, maybe irrational Tea Party voters and the pragmatic establishment. It's a battle of "head versus heart," the Los Angeles Times' Paul West writes. So Romney has to worry about any sign that instead of the Republican "heart" calming down to embrace his candidacy, the "head" is warming up to Newt. The Journal wasn't always so sanguine about Gingrich. In December, his "historian" work for Freddie Mac was the subject of a harsh editorial. Gingrich's consultant work was evidence that Gingrich "has a soft spot for big government when he can use it for his own political ends... If Americans want more 'bold' government experiments, they'll re-elect Barack Obama." Today it's praising Gingrich as a powerful defender of conservative values. A year ago, Gingrich warred with the Journal over his support for ethanol subsidies, which led the editorial page to conclude, "Some pandering is inevitable in presidential politics, but, befitting a college professor, Mr. Gingrich insists on portraying his low vote-buying as high 'intellectual' policy. This doesn't bode well for his judgment as a president." Now the Journal is gently urging him to offer a more inclusive message.
Two Politico stories point out that Gingrich is a terrible candidate ("three wives, and cheating on and leaving the first two while they were ill; inconsistency on the most consequential conservative causes of the past decade; episodic bouts of self-importance severe even by politicians’ standards; and countless tales of erratic leadership in crisis.") while Romney is the perfect candidate ("Perfect resume, perfect looks, perfect family, and a perfect roster of skilled campaign operatives and blue-chip endorsements"). But perfect isn't doing so well right now. Romney has a lot more money and organization than Gingrich going into Florida -- his campaign plus the superPACs supporting it will probably spent nearly $10 million in the state, Politico reports. But that was true in South Carolina, too. Romney outspent Gingrich 2 to 1 there and won just three counties Saturday. In the debate Monday night, Romney will have to ape Gingrich's style a little bit -- aggressively going after Newt's character and record. We'll see if the turnaround expert can turn around his campaign.