By now a clear pattern has emerged in the two-way race between former Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Romney is the center of gravity, while Gingrich experiences periodic boomlets of zeal-driven support that he can't sustain.
After a crushing victory in South Carolina, sparking what appeared, briefly, to be unstoppable momentum into Florida, Gingrich has stalled in the Sunshine State—just as he did in Iowa. Rasmussen Reports now has Romney with a nine-point lead over Gingrich in Florida.
Hot Air's Ed Morrissey speculates that Monday's debate, in which Romney forcefully confronted Gingrich over his ties to government-backed mortgage company Freddie Mac, "turned out to be a game-changer after all."
I'm not sure it was a game-changer, but it's clear the debate helped; I tweeted immediately afterward that Romney would see at least a modest bump. But you miss the big picture of the Romney-Gingrich battle if you view it as a traditional horserace. If I may mix yet more metaphors, it seems to me that Gingrich is like a ball bouncing on Romney's floor. Whether it's a lack of money or poor thoughts-to-mouth filtration, he simply can't stay airborne on his own.
Gingrich triumphed in South Carolina because he happened to be in the air at just the right time. In the last several days, we've seen the inevitable downward arc. (See this Gallup chart, which is a few days old and doesn't reflect the latest dip, to get an idea of what I mean.)
My best guess is that, unless he's able to manufacture another galvanizing tête-à-tête in Thursday's debate with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Gingrich will lose the Florida primary. The Republican establishment will breathe a loud sigh of relief. And the Romney machine will march on to Super Tuesday.
At some point, the Newt ball is going to stop bouncing.