01/27/2012 11:54 EST | Updated 03/28/2012 05:12 EDT

Whoever Wins Florida, at Least Fewer GOP Debates


To the relief of practically everyone except those who think Newt Gingrich is an honourable man, the rash of debates is mostly over among Republican contenders for the presidential nomination.

After Florida's primary on Saturday, there's only one debate scheduled for February and three for March. By then -- if Saturday's Florida primary goes the way it should - the GOP race may be in its wrap-up stages with Mitt Romney the party's choice.

As has been pointed out, Florida is twice as big as the three states combined who've already chosen the candidate they like -- three different winners in three states:

Rick Santorum in Iowa (sort of -- despite the disappearance of eight precinct returns); Romney a romp in New Hampshire; Gingrich a startling tsunami in South Carolina.

But Florida is for real -- involving two time zones and strong pockets of national security conservatives, social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, evangelicals and Cuban-American conservatives.

Perhaps the biggest change in the race since South Carolina is the sudden fear -- and "fear" is not too strong a word -- among Republicans that Gingrich might seal the nomination. Ex-Florida governor Jeb Bush is reportedly apoplectic at Gingrich's surge.

While Republican enthusiasm for Romney has always been lukewarm, there's no doubting his fiscal conservatism, nor his essential moral decency. He is a good person with nothing salacious or reprehensible in his background that's shameful.

The same cannot be said of Gingrich. Without going into particulars (which the Democrats will do if he wins the GOP nomination), there are very real concerns about whether Gingrich has the moral rectitude to warrant him being president.

Santorum, and especially Ron Paul, are increasingly unlikely to win the nomination. But both are honourable people. There's a sanctimonious quality to Santorum, favoured by the evangelicals, but he seems a highly moral man, if not presidential timbre -- at least this time around.

Although I think he'd be a disaster as president, Ron Paul is by far the most interesting, entertaining and candid of all the contenders. If it weren't for his blaming the U.S. for the 9/11 attack, and his nutty obsession with returning America to an isolationist, narrow, to-hell-with-international-responsibilities attitude, he'd be even more attractive than he is.

If he decides to run as a third-party candidate (and he repeatedly doesn't deny this possibility), he'll almost certainly get Barack Obama re-elected president.

One feels the Democrats want Gingrich to win the GOP nomination almost as much as the Republican establishment and moderate conservatives don't want it.

For all his alleged blandness and composure, Romney's tax returns are ho-hum -- proving he's very rich (which we already knew) and that he annually gives over $2 million (a tenth of his annual earnings) to his church.

Obama's desperation about the November election is seen in his State of the Union address where he wants the very rich to pay more taxes and he showcased Warren Buffett's secretary, of whom it's said Romney pays lower taxes than she does.

Wrong. He may pay at a lower rate, but he pays a hell of a lot more.

Romney's income from investments and capital gains, taxed at under 15 per cent, are available to anyone with investment and capital gains income. And he'd already paid taxes on income that he'd then invested -- the returns on which he paid more taxes.

Obama (and Gingrich) ignore that the poor don't create jobs -- rich people hoping to get richer do. Romney's business acumen has not only created jobs, but has saved jobs on companies that were headed for bankruptcy.

Anyway, we'll know by tonight if Gingrich succeeds scuttling Romney in Florida.