Romney to Gingrich: I'd rather not debate you one on one

Say, doesn’t this remind people of another debate challenge?  One in which one candidate bet another a bunch of money as an intimidation tactic?  Remember when the man who offered the bet claimed a refusal was an admission of error?  Good times, good times:

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Thursday spurned a challenge from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, his chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination, for a one-on-one debate in the run-up to the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, but he dismissed the notion, suggested by Mr. Gingrich, that he was afraid to participate in such a faceoff.

“We’ve had many occasions to debate together, and we’ll have more — I presume quite a few more — before this is finished,” Mr. Romney told the Associated Press. “But I’m not going to narrow this down to a two-person race while there are still a number of other candidates that are viable, important candidates in the race. I want to show respect to them.”

In a brief interview aboard his campaign bus as it rumbled through New Hampshire, Mr. Romney reflected on the a GOP nomination fight that’s seen many candidates and noncandidates alike rise and fall in polls. He mentioned Mr. Gingrich as well as Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Atlanta businessman Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and real estate magnate Donald Trump.

Well, were any of the other candidates complaining about being left out of the challenge?  I’d assume not, since the topic was specifically the criticisms Romney’s super-PAC supporters have launched against Gingrich.  In fact, given Gingrich’s recent fade and the continued stability shown in Romney’s numbers, some of the other candidates might not have minded at all that Gingrich could have had an exclusive forum in which to tear into Romney, an event that might have provided a potential opening for one or more of the candidates criss-crossing Iowa this week and next.  Of course, this is also obviously the outcome Romney wants to avoid.

Unlike the tone-deaf $10,000 bet challenge to Perry, a challenge to debate seems entirely reasonable, considering the attacks on Gingrich and his commitment to keep the campaign positive.  Romney’s decision to decline, while understandable from a tactical viewpoint, may not be a winner strategically speaking.  In this cycle, voters want someone who will fight for conservative principles, or at least fight Barack Obama in the general election with tenacity and enthusiasm.  If Romney can’t handle Gingrich in a one-on-one debate, some voters might conclude that Gingrich — or another Republican — might be more inclined toward tenacity and enthusiasm than Romney.

Funny how those triple-dog dares look pretty bad from the other end, huh?