If Iowa voters changed channels a few minutes into Thursday night's Republican presidential debate, they would have taken away the impression of a gracious Newt Gingrich wishing them "a very joyous Christmas." But anyone who stuck around longer would have seen the Gingrich who makes many Republicans quake at the idea of him as their nominee.
"I sometimes get accused of using language that's too strong, so I've been standing here editing. I'm very concerned about not appearing to be zany," the former House speaker said, in a sly reference to Mitt Romney's characterization of him as unsuited to the presidency.
Whatever your definitions of strong and zany, it's doubtful that Gingrich succeeded. In fact at times during the Fox News debate in Sioux City, Iowa, he made libertarian maverick Ron Paul sound like a sober upholder of the status quo.
The exchange that summed up all of Gingrich's strengths with the GOP base, and potential weaknesses in a general election, came over his plans for the courts.