The next Republican primary is either a fight for the future of the party, or yet another stop on the long road to the general election—it all depends on which GOP candidate you ask.
Fresh off his victory in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich sought to cast Florida’s primary as part of larger philosophical battle for the conservative movement, a groundswell to challenge President Obama come November.
“I represent the largest amount of change of any candidate,” the former Speaker of the House said on CNN’s State of the Union. “I’m not representing Wall Street or the politicians in Washington.”
Mitt Romney spent his precious airtime on the Sunday talk show circuit announcing that he would release his 2010 tax returns on Tuesday, saying it was a mistake to wait this long, and shrugging off Gingrich’s victory as merely a setback.
“He had a very good week going after me on taxes and Bain and so forth, and a great confrontation with Juan Williams,” Romney said on Fox News Sunday, referencing a debate before the election in which Gingrich had a strong showing. “That's hard to match in every single state.”
No matter which narrative Florida voters believe, they’re in for a wild time. There are debates this week on Monday and Thursday; the release of Romney’s tax returns and Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday; and the inevitable barrage of attack ads bound to fly through Florida in the days before the Jan. 31 primary.
Gingrich’s victory will bring momentum and all of its spoils, including money, and the coming debates—the platform on which Gingrich launched and sustained his campaign—will likely play to his favor. Sunday’s multiple talk show appearances gave a hint of his posturing moving forward.
Gingrich is positioning himself as a grandfather of conservatism, frequently citing Ronald Reagan and his own work on federal budgets and job creation. At the same time, he is trying to set himself up as an outsider—a change candidate—willing to go head-to-head with Obama on issues like domestic spending, financial reform and foreign affairs.
“How big a scale of change do we want in Washington?” he said during the last Republican debate.
Romney, for his part, appears to be on the defensive, after his second-place finish in the Palmetto State.
“I’m not somebody who is angry and mad, but I am very upset about the direction this country is headed," he said on Fox News Sunday.
Remember too that Romney leads in many categories that count, including money, organization and high-profile endorsements. And he seems to be settling in for a protracted fight.
"The undecideds virtually all broke for Newt, and I understand that,” Romney said. “He had a very good week. But, you know, this is a long process. We're looking ahead to a number of other races.”
And, of course, this is not a two-man race. Ron Paul, who came in last in South Carolina, has said his strategy is all about pursuing delegates. He was noticeably absent from the Sunday shows this week.
Not so Rick Santorum, who reminded voters on Sunday that he remains a candidate and intends to compete. Wearing a very presidential-looking striped tie and jacket, as opposed to his trademark sweater vest, he told CNN’s State of the Union, “This is a three-person race.”
Alexandra Jaffe contributed.