JACKSONVILLE, Florida -- The first 30 minutes of Thursday night's CNN debate featured a Newt Gingrich that would have been virtually unrecognizable just a week ago--growingly flustered, mildly whiney, and finding his go-to techniques, like demonizing the moderator, falling flat.
The reason: Gingrich was on the defense--like he has been all day.
Chances are, if you turned on the TV anywhere in Florida today, you saw Gingrich complaining. He's complained about Romney's ads, his rivals' unfair attacks, and the general tone of the campaign. And in a state where retail politicking is much less influential than what voters see on the tube, that impression matters.
That's the real reason the beginning of this debate--when the tone for the rest of the night was set--was so damaging to Gingrich. It only reinforced the notion that his campaign is on the defense--and on the decline.