Well now, that’s a different Mitt now, isn’t it? Going after Gingrich hammer and tongs. All solid hits on his messy leadership of the House, and his Freddie Mac involvement.  “It was Republicans who replaced him in the House,” etc. Gingrich is on the defensive.

UPDATE:  That was a better answer from Mitt on his wealth than we’ve heard before, but boy, he’s nervous as a cat when he talks about this, isn’t he? Santorum had a great comeback, though: if you’re such a big defender of capitalism, why did you support the Wall Street bailouts? Still, that’s progress from Mitt on this issue, but that’s not exactly a convincing delivery, is it?

UPDATE.1: I’ve been telling people all day to watch this debate, because it’s going to be fiery. So far, it’s kind of a dud. Weird.

“There’s a point in this process where it gets unnecessarily personal and nasty, and that’s sad,” says Newt Gingrich. Up next: Snooki denounces a lack of decorum among saloon patrons.

UPDATE.2: Romney makes a solid attack on Gingrich for his Freddie Mac advisory contract, saying it’s ridiculous to say that he was paid for being a “historian.” Gingrich lamely says that he was in fact hired by Freddie “largely based on my knowledge of history, including the history of Washington.” Oh, please! Your knowledge of the history of your friendships with the political elite, bub.

Hard to believe, but Romney has Gingrich on the defensive on this lobbying issue, and he’s stunned.

UPDATE.3: Romney is on a roll. Not much of a roll, but he sure has taken the momentum out of Newt tonight.

UPDATE.4: Is Ron Paul here tonight? Hello? It’s not Paul’s fault; Brian Williams is running this thing. What a stiff.

UPDATE.5: Gingrich says the banks are “overregulated.” Really? Brian Williams ought to have pressed him on whether or not the banks were overregulated prior to the crash — instead, asking that of Romney. Romney, correctly, says that no, the banks were, and are, “poorly regulated.” But Williams let Gingrich get away with this.

Oh great, Gingrich wants to commit the US to overthrowing the Cuban government by using every means short of military invasion.

“The Cold War is over. … It’s not 1962 anymore, and we don’t have to use force and intimidation, and the overthrow of governments,” Paul says, sensibly — and bravely, to a Florida audience. Paul obviously doesn’t want to win Florida.

UPDATE.6: So it’s Obama’s fault that we’re making little headway in Afghanistan? Really, Mitt? This ticks me off. This idea that the only thing keeping us from defeating the Taliban is a lack of American will is by this late date a lie, and an outrage. Go Ron Paul!

I hate this format. This isn’t a debate. It’s an interview show. The only interesting part of the whole thing was when Romney and Gingrich pounded each other directly.

UPDATE.7: Could Santorum possibly be more eager to start a war with Iran? Good grief. Vote for him, and you vote for war. At least that’s crystal clear.

UPDATE.8: Gingrich believes that ag subsidies are bad, but it’s hopeless to try to get rid of them, so, meh. That’s it? That’s it?!

But then that irritating Romney says the right thing — subsidies are bad — then uses his time to complain about Obama. This is actually a great question, the ag subsidy one, but Romney did his usual two-step to avoid answering the question he was asked, and instead to get his message out. If he was bound and determined not to answer the question, he should have used his time to lay into Gingrich. Romney still doesn’t quite seem to understand that he is not in the race against Obama yet, that he has to get past Gingrich. He started out so well, pounding on Gingrich, but now he’s reverted to type. He’s just lucky Gingrich has been such a dud tonight.

UPDATE.9: Applause and hooting is not allowed tonight. Seems like the lack of crowd response has been for Gingrich the equivalent of denying oxygen to a flash fire.

UPDATE.10: Why the hell are we talking about Terri Schiavo now? What an out-of-left-field question. That ended in 2005.

UPDATE.11: Romney’s answer on what he’s done for conservatism was pretty good: raising a family and working in the private sector, because you shouldn’t think that the only way you can do anything for conservatism is in politics. This was smart because his political record on conventional conservatism is fairly thin, certainly compared to Gingrich’s lengthy political record.

Leaving aside the substance of Santorum’s attack on Romney and Gingrich on global warming and Obamacare, his response was probably the most politically effective of the night, separating himself as a conservative from those two. “They rejected conservatism when it was hard to stand,” Santorum said. Great line.

Of course, Paul says exactly the right thing: “The problem is nobody has defined what conservatism is.” I disagree with Paul that conservatism is about less government and more freedom — that’s why Paul is a libertarian, and I am a traditional conservative — but as usual, I greatly appreciate the point he’s making.

UPDATE.12: My favorite tweet of the night is from (suck-up watch!) my Big Cheese Editor Dan McCarthy:

My God, the country is in freefall and Mitt is pandering to the space program.

UPDATE.13: You could have turned this thing off after the first 25 minutes. Romney knifed him early on, and Gingrich never really recovered. But Romney failed to continue the momentum he built up against Gingrich. I think Romney won this thing, but not by much. They all looked second-rate tonight. Romney backers must have been pleased to see him finally land some effective blows on Gingrich. Andrea Mitchell is saying on NBC right now that Gingrich’s momentum will not have been slowed by this performance tonight. I don’t know. She’s on the ground in Florida, I’m not. This was not the fiery Newt that lit up South Carolina.

I can’t see any big headlines coming out of this debate tonight, unlike the South Carolina debates. Tomorrow’s news will be dominated by the release of Romney’s tax returns. I thought Romney helped himself tonight, but not nearly as much as he needed to have done.

UPDATE.14: Forgot to mention Andrea Mitchell quoting an unnamed Romney adviser saying that if Romney loses Florida, they’re going to push for a brokered convention. A Romney advisor. A brokered GOP convention. Think about that, would you. Is that even possible? Imagine the revolt from the base if the GOP insiders tried that. It’s unthinkable. Except it’s not.

UPDATE.15: I wish to revise my take on Romney’s answer to the “what have you done for conservatism?” question to agree with Jonah Goldberg, who says:

For instance, his answer on what he did for conservatism was very bad. He began with: I raised a family! I started a business! Well, there are lots of liberals who raised families and started businesses. Those are admirable things but they have nothing to do with advancing conservatism. And that’s fine! Conservatism is only a partial philosophy of life and there’s no shame whatsoever and much honor in dedicating your life to family and work. But by beginning that way it sent the signal that he didn’t have a good answer and by the time he got to his record it was already clear he wasn’t going to sell it.