It makes sense that Gingrich would say this, but it doesn’t make it true:
Newt Gingrich mocked his Republican rivals for pulling out of a planned debate in Georgia days before the pivotal Super Tuesday primaries, saying the other candidates were “afraid” to debate him.
“The average Georgian is going to say, the average Ohioan is going to say, ‘Let me get this straight. They won’t come here to debate but they want my vote?'” Gingrich said Friday, according to the Associated Press. “Anybody who’s afraid of debating Newt Gingrich isn’t going to be in very good shape to debate Barack Obama.”
Gingrich was campaigning in Peachtree City, the Atlanta exurb he represented for two decades in Congress. Georgia’s 76 delegates are the most of any Super Tuesday state – or primary contest to date – and the former House Speaker has made the state the lynchpin of his effort to once again regain relevancy in the GOP presidential race.
If fear factored into Mitt Romney’s decision to withdraw from the debate at all, it was surely fear of Santorum, who, in the last few debates, hit his opponents on health care and the Wall Street bailouts. In the general election, the eventual GOP nominee will need to be able to present a clear contrast to President Obama on those topics, and Rick Santorum has been effectively making the case that a Mitt Romney nomination takes those issues out of play. Debate fatigue was surely also a factor. Arizona marks the 20th debate on the schedule. Given that, Mitt Romney was merciful to GOP audiences to withdraw. If we haven’t learned what we want to learn of the candidates’ debating skills by now, then shame on us.
It seems safe to say Santorum withdrew because Mitt Romney did and Ron Paul withdrew because Rick Santorum did; they don’t need a debate to weaken Gingrich, who has effectively weakened himself.
Gingrich’s comments also betray an unwarranted amount of arrogance in his own debate performances. Yes, it’s true that the cancellation of the debate hurts him most. In South Carolina, his solid debate performances propelled him to victory. Plus, he needs the free publicity of a debate. But it’s equally valid to say his uneven debate performances in Florida cost him there. There’s no guarantee that Gingrich would have helped himself in the debate in Georgia.