By Dick Morris - 01/17/12 11:06 PM EST
The impostor who wallowed in negative ads, attacked capitalism at Bain Capital and hemmed and hawed when asked about his role at Freddie Mac is gone. The real Newt Gingrich has returned!
The former Speaker was in his element during Monday night’s GOP debate in South Carolina. Inspired and egged on by a conservative crowd and appealing to a national TV audience, he put red meat before the voters. Rick Santorum, by contrast, served only white-meat chicken. (It was a GOP debate, so nobody served pork.)
And when he savaged Ron Paul for comparing Osama bin Laden to a Chinese dissident seeking asylum in the United States, he articulated what we all felt — revulsion at Paul’s modern-day impersonation of Neville Chamberlain cowering in the face of Hitler.
Newt is back!
With biweekly debates, these national contests — far more than local campaigning and even paid advertising — will shape the outcome of the early primaries. Especially in a state the size of South Carolina, where media is not that costly, so everyone can afford their share, the debates will be the difference.
Santorum’s performance was workmanlike, statistical, detailed and lawyerly. He laid out his points well and even baited a trap for Romney over his failure to urge the repeal of a Massachusetts law permitting felons to vote, even while incarcerated. But the difference between Santorum and Gingrich was on vivid display on Monday night: passion versus carefully articulated positions.
Just as important for Newt was the destruction of Ron Paul. His quibbling over how we should have handled bin Laden and the candidate’s obviously self-destructive isolationism should reduce even further his vote share in a defense-oriented state like South Carolina. If Newt can open up a separation in vote share vis-à-vis Paul and Santorum (and Perry recognizes reality and bows out) then Newt has Mitt where he wants him — one on one.
Romney’s debate performance was subpar. He handled the income tax return question poorly. Everybody realizes that releasing your returns in April won’t help primary voters decide for whom they should vote in January. Most likely, Mitt’s return will show that he paid the capital gains rate — 15 percent — on his income, which is his legal right, but which will open him up for criticism. But Romney has to realize that he needs to take the heat and release them sooner rather than later. If Gingrich releases his returns before South Carolina, you can bet he will force Romney to fess up before Florida.
Mitt also needs to do a better job of defending Bain Capital. This is not a tax-supported or philanthropic institution. Bain got private investors to bail out failing companies. To do that, and to take those kinds of risks, you need to offer monster returns. That Bain was able to produce, attract capital and turn around so many companies is very, very admirable. And Romney needs to start addressing it in those terms. Are his critics confident that he would have gotten the capital to try to turn these companies around if he offered a lower return? On what basis do they think so?
Newt only hurts himself by going negative. He looks bad doing it and it brings out the worst in his image. It makes one wonder if he is staying in the race out of anger and a need for revenge. But when he articulates his positive vision, we realize what a patriot he really is.
Morris, a former adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Clinton, is the author of Outrage, Fleeced, Catastrophe and 2010: Take Back America — A Battle Plan. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by e-mail or to order a signed copy of their latest book, Revolt!: How To Defeat Obama and Repeal His Socialist Programs — A Patriot’s Guide, go to dickmorris.com.