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A Gingrich Win Could Benefit Everyone — Even Romney

12:00 AM, Jan 18, 2012 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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Additionally, with the Republican field having been whittled down to a much more manageable five candidates (which could soon become four, depending on whether Rick Perry stays in after South Carolina), the candidates now have the chance to engage in more substantial examinations of issues, ideas, and each other’s credentials.  Having withstood an abundance of 8-candidate debates with 30-second answers just to get to this point, it would be a shame for the GOP to stop staging debates right when they’ve started to get good.  Indeed, the party would benefit greatly from having many more debates among this smaller field, as the candidates now have the chance to give somewhat longer, more substantial answers and engage in more give and take.  A party of ideas shouldn’t be afraid of such an opportunity but rather should welcome it.  Again, a Gingrich win in South Carolina would facilitate this.

Of course, the more risk-averse elements in the Romney campaign would rather avoid such debates, put to rest any thought of Romney’s not prevailing in the Republican race, and simply move on to the general election campaign.  But, in truth (and while competing to the fullest), Romney should actually welcome additional chances to hone his skills at this level.  After all, if he isn’t confident that he can beat Newt Gingrich without a Mike Tyson-style early round knockout — secured mostly through a huge advantage in cash and a resulting barrage of negative advertising in Iowa — then what chance does he really have of beating Obama?  Forget Tyson:  Romney needs to be training for a “Thrilla in Manila”-like bout with Obama.  He needs to be prepared to go 14 or 15 rounds — or, at the least, 7 or 8.  And no sparring partner in his own gym would hit nearly as hard as Gingrich.

For a party that (rightly) sings the praises of competition at nearly every turn, Republicans can be strangely blind to its virtues in our politics.  Is Romney a better candidate now than he was in the summer? Indisputably, he is. Would he be an even better candidate this coming summer if he doesn’t have the luxury of merely coasting along for the next several months? Yes, he would be. 

Whatever one thinks of the attacks on Romney’s management at Bain Capital, Romney still hasn’t provided particularly compelling answers to those questions. (Merely having Republicans respond in outrage against “an attack on capitalism” won’t suffice versus Obama.) Likewise, he still hasn’t given a convincing answer as to why he so dislikes Obamacare yet is so proud of Romneycare, which Obama will say is Obamacare’s prototype. A few more months of doing battle with Gingrich and Santorum would surely help the GOP frontrunner hone his answers to these and other questions, leaving him a more formidable — and more philosophically tenable — general election candidate. 

And (in the spirit of competition) if he’s not up to the task, better to know now. As Perry said to Romney in Monday night’s debate (Perry was referring to Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns, but the comment applies more broadly): “We cannot fire our nominee in September. We need to know now.”  Indeed, we do.  And that requires Republican voters — starting with South Carolina’s Republican voters — not to let the Obama-friendly press short-circuit the race for the GOP nomination. 

If South Carolinians back Newt Gingrich, thereby exemplifying the independent spirit for which they’ve been famous since at least the days of Andrew Jackson — rather than merely rubber-stamping the verdicts of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire — everyone will benefit. Everyone, that is, except for Obama.

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