The headline from the Monday night debate was of course Romney's burst of combativeness against Gingrich, and Gingrich's oddly listless replies.
Newt Gingrich toned down something else as well: his racial politics. In South Carolina he fired off a cannonade of racial cues, culminating—incredibly—in his assertion that work was a "strange concept" to Juan Williams.
In Florida, Gingrich celebrated multilingualism, endorsed an (amended) DREAM act, and praised the costly new prescription drug benefit in Medicare.
In South Carolina, Gingrich defined the American nation tightly and exclusively. In Florida, he opened the borders much wider—literally.
You don't need me to explain the different reasons Gingrich might have in the different states. But as to what he's doing: that's hard to mistake.
Mitt Romney pounded Gingrich as the very opposite of the agent of change he wishes to seem. Romney outright called Gingrich an influence-peddler, a charge that draws extra blood because it is exactly true.
But does it matter? The conservative movement these past three years has shown an amazing ability to forgive offenses once deemed unforgivable, providing they are committed by "one of our own." The contest is to prove that you are "one of us." That's a contest to which Gingrich comes with large advantages.
Gingrich might not have what it takes to be a viable national candidate, much less an effective president. But he knows this party better than anybody.