Election 2014  
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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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Santorum won only 13 percent in the Florida contest, while Paul, who didn't even campaign in the state, garnered only 7 percent.

"We are going to contest every place," Gingrich added, "and we are going to win, and we will be in Tampa [site of the upcoming Republican National Convention] as the nominee in August."

While Gingrich lashed out both at Romney and Obama, Obama took the brunt. Gingrich, now playing the role of the faithful Catholic -- his third religion, arrived at after two divorces -- trumpeted his recent theme of a made-up "war on the Catholic Church and other religious institutions," which he contends the administration is conducting. As evidence, though without ever stating it explicitly, Gingrich offered the rules in the new health-care law that require employers to provide contraception coverage in any health-care benefits package given to employees. (While the church itself is exempt, institutions such as universities and hospitals run by it or other religious organizations, are not.)

He painted Obama as an agent of decay and a foe of Israel.

Gingrich added, "I'm not going to be singing like Obama, because I'm not running for entertainer-in-chief." In Florida, Gingrich had to play the race card a bit more subtly than he did in South Carolina, because the Republican base is a bit more diverse in the Sunshine State.

He closed by invoking the oath of the Founders that appears in the Declaration of Independence: "I promise you that if I become your president, I pledge to you my life, my fortune, and my sacred honor." (Some would settle for a return of the fortune he made delivering historical advice to the government-supported mortgage giant, Freddie Mac.)

Romney, the Wounded Victor

Mitt Romney emerged victorious from Florida, but it was not a happy victory. He split the all-important evangelical vote with Gingrich, and failed to win even half of the total votes cast. Still the state is winner-take-all, so Romney won a big prize in the form of 50 delegates to the GOP convention. But the nastiness of his campaign against Gingrich left him with high negatives going into future contests, sullying the nice-guy image he has assiduously cultivated for, lo, these many years. Last week's Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that nearly half of respondents now had a negative view of the Massachusetts governor, an increase of some 20 points. By some estimates, Romney and his supporters outspent Gingrich by 5 to 1 in Florida, most of it on negative advertising.

While Romney omitted any direct reference to Gingrich in his victory speech, Gingrich's influence was all over those remarks, as Romney appropriated Gingrich's themes, and repackaged them in more acceptable -- and sometimes more vague -- language.

"President Obama orders religious organizations to violate their conscience," Romney said. "I will defend religious liberty and overturn regulations that trample on our first freedom." So, he's not quite accusing the president of a war on religion, but you get the picture. (Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches has much more on this trumped-up "war on religion.")

Romney, the multi-millionaire, even tried his hand at playing the elitism card that has served Gingrich so well in ginning up anger. "Like his colleagues in the faculty lounge who think they know better, President Obama demonizes and denigrates almost every sector of our economy," Romney said. (Accusing the black president of denigrating the economy is an especially clever twist.) Romney's accusation is laughable in the face of Obama's paean to the manufacturing economy in last week's State of the Union message, but never mind. It was a Gingrichian accusation, rooted not in fact but in the politics of resentment, as was Romney's characterization of "Obamacare" as the province of all-controlling "bureaucrats."

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