This weekend's two debates in New Hampshire could go a long way to determine whether Mitt Romney will have a short or long path to the nomination.
The debates Saturday in Manchester and Sunday in Concord present Romney with the highest of stakes, and if I were him, I would see it as a great opportunity. Most people correctly assume Romney will be focus of the debate and that Gingrich, in particular, with Santorum not far behind, will savage Romney's various variations from conservative norms. New Hampshire is probably Gingrich's last real stand and Santorum is looking to consolidate his position as the conservative alternative. This makes them dangerous. It will be interesting to see whether they both gang up on Romney, or wait to see if the other will do the dirty work. Meanwhile, Ron Paul will play to his base, and Jon Huntsman could find himself a spectator — although he bears watching because his whole campaign rides on his performance.
So what should Romney say when he finds himself facing the firing squad? I would suggest something like this:
Most Americans watching tonight are trying to decide, not which of us is perfect by some political scorecard, but who can restore America to greatness. We've lost so much in such a short time, and this election is our chance to do better for our country. The question shouldn't be who among us has fallen short or one time or another in their life or career. Because we all have — and we can spend our time finding those votes, or those consulting contracts, or those compromises. But it misses the much larger and more urgent point. All of us love this country and all of us have great integrity. The real measure of our nominee must be who has the conviction and experience to liberate our economy from the shackles of government and get us growing again. If we do that, we will restore and protect the fundamental values of our country that this president has trampled on: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Romney's opportunity this weekend is to lift the debate and define the Republican contest on his terms. If he falters, he is in for a long and expensive few months. If he succeeds, he could continue to clear the field.