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Newt Is Debater-in-Chief. But President? Newt Is Debater-in-Chief. But President?

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Newt Is Debater-in-Chief. But President?


Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich participates in the Republican presidential candidate debate at the North Charleston Coliseum in Charleston, S.C., Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman)(David Goldman/AP)

OK, let's stipulate the obvious: Newt is everything he said he was. He's a superb debater. He really could take on Barack Obama in a "Lincoln-Douglas debate," and he might even win. Gingrich's preemptive assault tonight on John King, CNN and the media in general over his ex-wife Marianne's salacious allegations was nothing short of brilliant. It was a classic Gingrichian descent into rhetorical overreach - King's decision to raise the subject as the first question in the 16th GOP debate was "as close to despicable as anything I can imagine," Newt declared (Anything? Really, Newt?) - but, man, was it effective.

"I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country harder to attract decent people to run for office," Gingrich said to cheers. "I'm appalled you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that." His attack neutralized the issue as effectively as could be done.

But Gingrich for president? That's another matter. Look, we know that Newt is basically the last man standing against the all but inevitable nominee, Mitt Romney, with Santorum fading fast (despite a somewhat effective performance tonight; he was the only one still attacking Romney). And yes, there has been a gradual numbing-down of the nation's sensitivity over sexual escapades since "Monkey Business" and Monica Lewinsky. But the allegations from Newt's ex, Marianne, about his request for an "open marriage" are a bit much even in today's environment, especially coming in socially conservative South Carolina.

In the end, I think, the Romney Super PAC ad about Newt in Iowa may have been right: there's just too much "baggage" in a Gingrich candidacy. There is a reason why the people who are most fearful of a Gingrich presidency are not just an ex-wife like Marianne, who says he lacks the moral character to be in the White House, but some of his closest aides and Republican confederates from the past, who whisper that he is capable of doing or saying almost anything. Just as Gingrich did again tonight, closing the debate, when he declared that "it is imperative that we defeat Barack Obama" because he is "the most dangerous president of our lifetime." Again, one must say, "Really, Newt?"

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