Like a stand-up comedian whose routine suffers without echoes of laughter egging him on, Newt Gingrich was a candidate without cadence Monday night when he found himself searching hopelessly for the secret weapons that have proven crucial to his season of strong debate performances: moderators to scold and audience members to energize.
In front of a small, sedate crowd comprised primarily of rank-and-file spectators rather than die-hard activists, Gingrich found himself on the defensive from the opening bell against a barrage of blows from Mitt Romney over everything from his work at Freddie Mac to his abrupt departure from Congress.
In past debates, Gingrich has employed humor, hubris and humiliation to deflect incoming criticism and reverse the rhetorical momentum, rallying the crowd to his cause with a sharp remark to a rival or stinging rebuke of the moderator. But there was no such outlet for Gingrich in Tampa: NBC's Brian Williams asked the audience to stay quiet and steered clear of any John King-style confrontation; and most of Gingrich's internecine attacks seemed to land with a rhetorical thud.
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