There was only one question going into Thursday night's Republican debate in Jacksonville, Fla.: Would Newt Gingrich win, or would he lose?
He lost. And even worse for Gingrich, Mitt Romney won.
Anything less than the type of bring-down-the-house blowout that's kept Gingrich's candidacy afloat would have been a disappointment, and Gingrich fell far short of the mark he'd set for himself.
Romney got Gingrich off-balance from the start by stealing two of the former speaker's favorite tricks: feigned offense and getting the crowd riled up.AP reports:
Even with the sound turned off, Romney would have stolen Newt Gingrich's debate thunder with a surprisingly commanding and aggressive performance in the latest Florida faceoff, body language experts said Friday....
It was a marked change for Romney, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an expert in political communication at the University of Pennsylvania. "All his nonverbal cues suggested directness," she said. "The halting delivery was gone. He didn't hesitate before responding. The indecisiveness disappeared."
The former Massachusetts governor also showed flashes of temperament, unafraid to display real anger at Gingrich's calling him, in an ad, an "anti-immigrant" candidate.
"Mr. Speaker, I'm not anti-immigrant!" he retorted. "The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive. Don't use a term like that."
The anger came off as both real and controlled, said body language coach Patti Wood, which was important because it projected the sense that Romney wouldn't be carried away by his emotions as president.
Where did the new Romney technique come from? Both Jamieson and Wood say it was clear the candidate had been well coached. Indeed, Romney has been working with a new coach — Brett O'Donnell, formerly with Michele Bachmann's campaign.
"You don't make that kind of change without practice," says Jamieson.
Members of Newt Gingrich's campaign accused Mitt Romney's campaign of packing the audience for the Republican presidential candidate debate on Thursday night in Jacksonville, Fla., with its own supporters to ensure that the dynamics would be favorable to Romney.
"They definitely packed the room," Kevin Kellems, one of Gingrich's senior advisers, told The Huffington Post early Friday morning. "The problem for them is their candidate, at several junctures, couldn't remember what he had said before on an issue or what the fundamental truth is on a given topic. TV viewers tend to notice and remember things like that."