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In Florida Romney Trounces Competitors, But Gingrich Steals Thunder With Bizarre Speech

In what may go down in history as one of the weirdest post-primary speeches ever, Gingrich seems to declare war on the Republican Party.
 
 
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Photo Credit: C-SPAN

 

It's hard to remember that less than two weeks ago, in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was riding high on his South Carolina primary victory, poised to descend on Florida as Hurricane Newt. But on Tuesday, Gingrich suffered a ringing defeat in the Florida primary at the hands of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who won 46 percent of the vote, compared with Gingrich's 32 percent, according to CNN.

Gingrich responded to the loss with a speech that can't really be called a concession speech, because he failed to concede. Romney, in a more gentlemanly fashion, did acknowledge his rivals (who also include former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, and Rep. Ron Paul), though not by name, calling them "serious and able competitors."

After citing remarks made by President Abraham Lincoln at the 1863 dedication of a Civil War cemetery, Gingrich, a highly compensated historian, contended that he would continue to fight for the nomination by waging "a people's campaign -- not a Republican campaign, not an establishment campaign, not a Wall Street-funded campaign..."

With those remarks, Gingrich effectively declared war on the Republican Party. After all, in the week just past, the party leaders had declared war on him. And with Newt still favored by Tea Party supporters and evangelical Christians, it's something of a civil war that could deeply divide the GOP. Standing behind Gingrich as he made his remarks (with third wife, Callista, at his side), was a platoon of supporters holding signs that read: "46 MORE STATES TO GO."

The Stop Newt Campaign

As we noted late last week, leaders of what passes for the Republican establishment these days -- a rather odd coalition of fading former moderates and a couple of Tea Party favorites -- launched what appeared to be a coordinated attack on the former House speaker. Bob Dole, the former presidential candidate and Senate majority leader, issued a scathing statement that all but blamed Gingrich for the defeat of his presidential bid. Elliott Abrams, who served in the Reagan administration, challenged Gingrich's attempt to assume the Gipper's mantle. Ann Coulter, the pundit of the poison pen, said that a Gingrich nomination guaranteed a second Obama term.

Then the coup de grâce: Sen. Marco Rubio, who sets Tea Partiers swooning, condemned a Spanish-language radio ad run by Gingrich that characterized Romney as "anti-immigrant" -- a label that matters in a state with a large Latino population. Rubio called on Gingrich to stop running the ad, and the former speaker cut his losses and withdrew it. Meanwhile, Romney continued to hit Gingrich with negative ads, and Gingrich's superPAC went after Romney with brutal spots suggesting that Romney had taken part in a Medicare fraud scheme. Gingrich denied knowledge of a robo-call made by his campaign alleging that Romney, while governor of Massachusetts, forced elderly Holocaust survivors to eat traif when he ended state funding for the provision of kosher meals at nursing homes. The Florida electorate comprises a high percentage of senior citizens.

Stealing Romney's Thunder

By his sheer belligerence and the bizarreness of his non-concession speech, Gingrich managed to steal Romney's victory thunder, even while speaking from the ground of his own defeat. The Twitterverse came alive as Gingrich delivered his stemwinder; its denizens only nodded politely as Romney spoke, making occasional note of the former governor's statements.

"I think Florida did something very important, coming on top of South Carolina," Gingrich said. "It is now clear that this will be a two-person race between the conservative leader, Newt Gingrich, and the Massachusetts moderate."

 
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