"You like me, right?"
Newt may be doing well amongst Republican voters, but Republican bigwigs have their terrified gaze fixed on another set of voters: the general public, whose opinion of Newt is decidedly low. Decidedly being the operative word - unlike most candidates, Newt has been prominent in national politics for so long that voters don't really need to know more to make up their minds. And anyway, in Newt's case, more visibility doesn't mean more likeability:
But still the Newt surges: he is now leading in Florida polls. If he wins there, he becomes the favourite to win the nomination. I'm not sure Romney has a clue how to react to being Newted. The trouble is, Mitt has high intelligence and zero imagination, and that makes it extra-difficult to react to an opponent so unconventional in style. Here is Mark Steyn's summary of Romney's bland, generic stump speech: “I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that’s the America millions of Americans believe in. That’s the America I love.”
Perhaps what Romney's advisers need to do is get him in a diner and make him cry (perhaps with a question about his hair). But then, of course, Romney's problem in this contest isn't likeability, it's credibility. Republican voters don't believe him when he says he's a true conservative. They don't even believe him when he says he's the candidate most likely to beat Obama - and that's true.
In the end, I think Romney's money, organisation, establishment backing, and dogged refusal to fall over will tell. The Newt has plenty of vulnerabilities that haven't yet been fully mined, including and his especially his lucrative consulting career, and his willingness to cuddle up to Nancy Pelosi on a sofa. (Romney started exploiting them rather effectively in last night's otherwise uneventful debate.)
Romney may even be a better, sharper, more human candidate by the end of this process. But somehow I doubt he's going to emulate Hillary and discover the happy warrior inside. Mitt is superficial all the way down.