Last night saw the final debate before Florida. It just might be the final debate of the nomination campaign, at least, the last one anyone watches. Gingrich's poll ratings in the Sunshine state are sinking, and Romney has retaken the lead there, helped by his ability to outspend his rival 10-1 on TV. Unless Gingrich can conjure up yet another surge between now and Tuesday, then Romney will crush him in Florida and almost certainly secure the nomination.
Gingrich had what was probably his last chance last night. The general consensus is that he blew it. He was tetchy, overly defensive and tired. He allowed Romney, whom he clearly despises, to get under his skin. He was too easily goaded into rhapsodising about space programs, which, even in Florida (home of the Space Coast), can make him seem a little detached from reality.
His bad night was compounded by two rivals having a good one. Santorum put in a relatively strong performance - strong enough, anyway, to stay in contention for second or third place, and thus prevent the anti-Romney vote from coalescing further behind Gingrich. Most importantly, Romney was superb. After a little loss of focus in the last couple of debates, he was back on his game, conveying command and poise and, when needed, great knife skills.
The above exchange was one of the pivotal moments. Gingrich, slightly half-heartedly, takes on Romney over his investments; Romney, completely prepared for the attack, turns it back on Gingrich and redoubles its power. Newt almost shrinks behind his podium.
Note the moment that Gingrich, struggling to defend himself, says that comparing him as an investor to Romney is like comparing "a tiny mouse to a giant elephant". At which point you can see Romney smile and think, "Yep, happy with that image."