The bomb thrower vs. the consensus builder.
Mr. Bombastic vs. Mr. Cautious.
With three weeks until the Iowa caucuses, those differences between Republican front-runners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are shaping up to be the central contrast in the fight for the GOP presidential nomination.
And they help explain, in part, why Gingrich is soaring in the polls and why Romney is slipping. After all, in the Age of Obama, Republican primary voters -- more and more -- seem to prefer confrontation over caution and rhetorical red meat over nuance.
That confrontation-vs.-nuance contrast was on display at Saturday night's GOP debate here in Iowa, where Romney took issue with Gingrich’s past statement that Palestinians were “invented” people who might not have a legitimate claim to statehood.
“We're not going to throw incendiary words into a place which is a boiling pot when our friends, the Israelis, would probably say, ‘What in the world are you doing?’” Romney said.
“[If] I'm president of the United States, I will exercise sobriety, care, stability,” he added. “I'm not a bomb thrower, rhetorically or literally.”
Gingrich had a different response, saying that Israel is under siege from the Palestinians.
“I think sometimes it is helpful to have a President of the United States with the courage to tell the truth, just as was Ronald Reagan who went around his entire national security apparatus to call the Soviet Union an evil empire.”
Gingrich continued, “I am a Reaganite, I'm proud to be a Reaganite. I will tell the truth, even if it's at the risk of causing some confusion sometimes with the timid.”
So there’s your Republican presidential race for now (and perhaps for the next several months): Romney’s sobriety and stability vs. Gingrich’s calling it like he sees it.
And according to the polls, Republicans -- especially conservatives and Tea Party supporters -- are siding with Gingrich.