The headline from Florida: the better man won. Consider Newt Gingrich’s behavior since the Iowa caucuses. He’s been erratic, first promising never to attack Mitt Romney, then attacking Romney viciously, then attacking debate moderator Wolf Blitzer for asking him about his anti-Romney attacks. He’s stirred up bigotry, pledging in his stump speech to protect America from Sharia law and traveling across South Carolina calling Obama a “food stamp” president. And he’s been megalomaniacal, comparing himself with Abraham Lincoln and the Founding Fathers in his Florida concession speech alone.
Romney, by contrast, has been disciplined and strategic. He played Iowa perfectly, keeping expectations low and then diving in when he had a chance to win. He tried to play the genteel frontrunner after New Hampshire, but when he lost South Carolina, he defenestrated Gingrich in the Florida debate. Yes, his huge money advantage helps, but the way he has amassed and spent it underscores one of his strongest assets, especially compared with Gingrich: his competence. And Romney not only has run a more intelligent campaign, he’s run a more honorable one as well. Maybe it’s because he’s a Mormon, maybe it’s because he comes from moderate, Northern Republican stock, but Romney has proved comparatively reluctant to exploit anti-Muslim or anti-black bigotry.
The past few weeks have shown what the real-world Republican alternative to Romney is. And even liberals owe Romney a debt of gratitude for saving us from it.
It’s too early to tell if Romney will prove a strong general-election candidate. He’s a hard guy to identify with, not only because of his wealth but because in our deeply religious country, candidates who try to keep their faith private (think Michael Dukakis) often struggle to connect emotionally with voters. His core convictions, if he has any, remain obscure. But the past few weeks have shown what the real-world Republican alternative to Romney is. And even liberals owe Romney a debt of gratitude for saving us from it.