MIAMI - We in the media make an inviting target and Newt Gingrich is locked and loaded. Talk about your Second Amendment remedies. Just ask Juan Williams and Chris Wallace of Fox News and CNN's John King.
Each asked Gingrich a legitimate, if touchy, question during recent TV debates and Gingrich mowed them down with a rhetorical fusillade that delighted in-studio and at-home audiences. Newt was variously astounded, appalled, amazed and offended at their audacity and arrogance. It's one of those takes-one-to-know-one things.
By attacking the media Gingrich hit a hot-button issue that excites voters of all stripes who are tired of the talking heads on TV talking down to them. Gingrich's anti-media tirades gave voice to their feelings. It was a brilliant move, if not altogether truthful. Gingrich proclaims that he's tired of "media elites" as well as the political ones that prevail in New York and Washington -- where he's lived and been proudly elitist for the last 35 years. But if conservative populism is the political flavor du jour, then that's the one he'll choose.
That message and feisty debate performances catapulted Gingrich into the lead.
And his attempt at Monday night's debate to be sedate, measured and presidential was pretty much a dud. It was Romney who shone for a change when he went hard after Gingrich on his work for Freddie Mac and his record as House speaker. Gingrich had no effective answer to Romney's charge that he was an "influence peddler" after being forced out as House speaker.
Look for more of the same until next Tuesday. Get ready for mud and lots of it. On Monday Romney started running an effective ad
that links Gingrich's $1.6 million contract with Freddie Mac to Florida's home foreclosure tsunami.
The ad mocks Gingrich's initial answer in a November debate that he was paid for his "advice as a historian." Gingrich's response in the Monday debate was unusually weak. Referring viewers to his web site doesn't cut it. Romney opened up some of Gingrich's old baggage and what was inside wasn't pretty.
Romney, of course, has his own problems. He tried to stem the tide running against his campaign by releasing his tax returns, which he should have done months ago.
While perfectly legal, working people who pay upwards of 20 percent in income taxes may not be sympathetic to a multimillionaire who pays 15 percent, however legal it may be. Romney also hurt himself by calling his speaking fees not very much money when they totaled more than $374,000. It's like his $10,000 debate bet with the late Rick Perry. Regular folks just have a hard time warming up to Mitt. And as others have pointed out, this is a guy who tied the family dog to the roof of his car and drove to Canada.
This afternoon Romney will give a major speech at the Freedom Tower on U.S. Cuba policy and it's sure to have lots of applause lines. But let's hope it doesn't require him to speak any Spanish. Four years ago Romney gave a speech here in which some clueless adviser had him quote Fidel's valedictory, "Patrio o muerto, venceremos!" believing it was the slogan of Cuban democrats.
Romney that night also mangled the names of nearly every Cuban in the audience. Basta.
Newt will likely get the votes on most Cuban Americans, whose cause he has championed since his early days in Congress.
Newt is one candidate who can explain "wet foot/dry foot" and argue why strict travel restrictions need to be re-imposed.
"Castro has been romanticized by the left," he told me recently, "but he's a tyrant and a murderer."
Look for the old forceful, vituperative Newt at Thursday night's debate in Jacksonville. Look for a newly-aggressive Romney. Florida is where it's at. Isn't this fun?
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