Romney Declines Lincoln-Douglas Debate Against Gingrich

Romney Declines Lincoln-Douglas Debate Against Gingrich

By Erin McPike - December 2, 2011

With the Republican presidential primary appearing to have narrowed into a two-man contest, Human Events and Red State moved quickly to lock down a date for a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

The two organizations went so far this past Monday as to firm up the Annenberg Theater at the Newseum in Washington as the venue on Dec. 19 after another debate originally scheduled that day was canceled. For its part, the Newseum was excited to host the pre-primary forum.

There was just one problem. While Gingrich was ready to take his place on the stage, the Romney campaign politely declined in a series of mostly e-mail exchanges.

As Joe Guerriero, publisher of Human Events and Red State, put it to RCP: “Newt was all over it, and the Romney camp basically said no. It wasn’t a harsh no, but it was a no.”

A Gingrich spokesman confirmed to RCP that the candidate was interested and accepted the invitation, but a Romney spokeswoman didn’t return a request for comment.

Guerriero explained that the impetus for the debate was this: Romney has long been presumed to be the nominee. But with Gingrich surging in the polls, why shouldn’t the Republican base get a chance to see the two top candidates go toe-to-toe?

“No disrespect to any of the other candidates,” Guerriero said, but given the state of the country, the economy, and the race to date, if Romney is to be the nominee, "he needs to go against the best debater with the deepest understanding of policy both domestic and foreign, and that appears to be Newt Gingrich.”

It’s no secret that Gingrich likes debates and has performed well in them, but Romney has had his share of solid performances too, and Guerriero and his colleagues believe Romney would stand to benefit from a two-person format featuring his toughest opponent to prepare him for debates against President Obama if he does win the GOP nomination.

He continued, “It looks like Newt’s made a real run at this, and the Romney camp is trying to run out the clock, and we don’t think that’s necessarily a wise strategy.” Instead, he said, the base should be able to see the top candidates answer the tough questions that these conservative publications don’t believe are being asked.

Going forward, Guerriero said, they have asked the candidates if they would agree to such a debate after the first few primary contests. Gingrich, he said, “is itching to do it,” but the Romney campaign “has been more circumspect.”

They hope to get one on the calendar soon, he said, but for now it won’t be for the date they had planned on prior to the Iowa caucuses. Guerriero said he realized the debate might not be as big as the debates that television networks can produce, but he asserted, “We want them onstage together.” 

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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