In the first Florida debate, Romney got his groove back. (Image via CBS)

Romney bounced back in the first Florida debate, with a much-subdued Newt Gingrich on the defensive after his South Carolina win.

Part of the problem, argues Aaron Goldstein, was the silence of the crowd:

The debate audiences at NBC, CBS and ABC behave like they’re at a tennis match. The audiences at Fox News and CNN are far more expressive and that works to Newt’s advantage. A sedate audience like the one tonight at NBC doesn’t play to Newt’s strengths. I suspect Newt will fare better at Thursday night’s debate which airs on CNN. What will also help him is that the debate is co-sponsored by the Hispanic Leadership Network and Newt is perceived as more sympathetic to Hispanics than Romney.

I’m not sure Romney’s tax returns will actually hurt him that much. Yes, his earnings over two years top $45 million, but we knew he was rich already. Yes, his taxes are low, but we knew already how low capital gains taxes are compared to income tax rates. The wealth of hedge fun managers isn’t exactly breaking news.

Romney hasn’t handled any of this well, but it’s not damning. And frankly, the more I think about it, Republicans really need to realize something: Newt is a demagogue, and that may make people feel good – by letting Newt tap into that anger, conservatives allow themselves to feel validated. But Romney is a better candidate. He can appear soulless at times – heartless at other times. His personality isn’t exactly compelling.

But who else in this race has been a governor? Who else has a long private-sector track record? Who else can appeal to moderates?

Look, I’m with Andrew Sullivan in my admiration of Ron Paul, but I see him more as a prophet than a politician at this point. He’s railing against American empire, and seriously we should all thank him for that. But his campaign is a campaign against empire and against arrogance more than it is a campaign for president. I think Ron Paul knows this, which is why he says things like, “How can you be conservative and cut food stamps, but not cut a penny over-seas …?”

But let’s be honest: Ron Paul won’t be president. That’s not even the point of his campaign. This thing is between Romney and Gingrich, and Republicans would be making a really big, really tremendously bad mistake by nominating the former speaker.

To be quite honest, all these dream candidates people keep swooning over – Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, etc. – aren’t all that much different than Romney. Governors, somewhat more moderate than the vanguard of the conservative movement. The big difference is that they have no organization, they aren’t on any ballots, and they don’t have any money raised.

So let’s please quit it with the pining over things that will never be: Gingrich will never be president, nor will Ron Paul. None of these Republican “dream” candidates will live up to their dream status and they couldn’t get into the race at this point anyways. Once-dream-candidate Rick Perry was always just a more boring, less charming George W Bush. Romney is the best Republican remaining in the race – at least if the GOP wants to win this thing.

Me? I say Run Newt Run!

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