I never thought I would see the day, but it looked an awful lot like Newt finished fourth out of the four candidates in tonight’s debate. For the first time during this primary season, Newt paid a price each and every time he went after Romney personally, who looked unusually aggressive and actually managed a passable impersonation of a human being. After the second time, he attempted to follow Santorum’s lead by saying that the tax return question was a distraction, and in a bizarre twist, Newt actually got his liver eaten by a moderator when Wolf Blitzer nailed him for having been the one who made an issue out of the tax returns.
Newt managed to look at least better during the second half of the debate but he did so mainly by staying in the weeds and making several unsubtle appeals to Paul voters. Even then he was overshadowed by Santorum (who has had back-to-back strong debate performances) and even Ron Paul, who a) was clearly on his medication and b) having conceded a last-place finish in Florida, was committed to having some fun at the other candidate’s expense.
In the last three days, Newt has watched a 7-point Florida lead evaporate into a 7-point deficit to Mitt Romney. He needed a bump from tonight’s debate in order to mount a challenge to Romney in Florida and hold his momentum heading into Super Tuesday. Instead, voters saw Romney displaying a killer instinct for perhaps the first time during the campaign, and Newt clearly overshadowed even on style points by both Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.
If Mitt Romney ends up winning the nomination, we may end up looking back at tonight as the night the tide finally turned in his favor for good.