Gail Collins / Four dudes and a table: Now Republicans must decide which one is grooviest
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The 20th Republican debate! I have now spent more time watching the GOP presidential candidates on television than two seasons of "Downton Abbey." Perhaps it would be easier if Newt Gingrich wore a tuxedo. Also, I am pretty sure the folks at Downton Abbey never spent an episode arguing about earmarks. Really, if the American people wanted to focus on earmarks, they'd have elected John McCain.
Still, it was sort of nice to see everybody back again. Like a high school reunion when even you enjoy reconnecting with even the really, really irritating kids. For a few minutes.
Remember Newt Gingrich? Guy with the big head? Won the South Carolina primary? It's been a tough stretch for the Gingrich campaign lately, except for the moment when Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who's been underwriting his attack ads, told Forbes that he might raise the ante to $100 million before he's through.
Mr. Gingrich's solution to his dwindling polls has been to buy time for an infomercial in which he sits behind a desk and talks about energy for 30 minutes. Newt has a touching faith in the attention span of the average voter.
Over on the other end of the table -- exciting breakthrough, that table -- was Ron Paul. He, too, has a new TV ad, but it's blessedly shorter. The Paul people decided to direct it at the youth of America, and it begins with a picture of Rick Santorum: "Is this dude serious? Fiscal conservative? Really?"
The ad goes on to say that Mr. Santorum's Senate votes to raise the debt ceiling were "not groovy." I am not an expert on the speech patterns of today's young people, but I am feeling pretty confident that they do not use the word "groovy."
But all the attention was on the two guys in the center. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. One of them is going to be the Republican nominee for president of the United States.
Take your pick, Republicans. On the one hand, the guy who once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. On the other, the guy who won his first House race by criticizing his opponent for moving his family to Washington -- and later moved his own family to Washington but said it didn't count because he had moved up to the Senate, and the Senate was different.
Much of the debate involved Romney-Santorum squabbling, a high point of which was Mr. Santorum's claim that Mr. Romney was "adopting the Occupy Wall Street rhetoric."
Mr. Romney had the Arizona crowd on his side. This was no easy task for the crowd, since it required a lot of booing and cheering at those obscure earmark arguments.
Mitt needed the support. He's facing a must-win primary next week in Michigan, which is his home state. Along with Massachusetts and New Hampshire and California, where he has, um, homes. Michigan appears to be the only Romney home state where Mr. Romney does not have an actual residence.
In his attempts to make up for that oversight, Mr. Romney has really been laying it on thick. "I love this state!" he told Michiganders at one campaign stop. "It seems right here! Trees are the right height!"
Another thing Mitt has been doing to try to re-win the love of the state whose major industry he wanted to send into bankruptcy has been to get Donald Trump to record robo-calls that will tell innocent Michigan phone answerers that Mr. Romney is a "good man" while Mr. Santorum is a "career politician."
Mitt Romney thinks Michigan voters will like him better because he has earned the respect of Donald Trump -- a person who claimed he postponed plans to run for president himself and save the nation because of a conflict with air dates for "Celebrity Apprentice."
Well, there's always Rick Santorum. A man who dislikes, among many, many other things, contraception, prenatal testing and public schools. ("Public schools? That's a nice way of putting it. These are government-run schools.") The career politician! Actually, Mr. Trump was entirely unfair on this point -- Mr. Santorum has been out of office since 2006, when he was defeated for re-election by one of the widest margins in U.S. history.
Well, there's always Newt. Or Ron Paul. Some choice, dudes. Not groovy.
First Published February 24, 2012 12:00 am