At last night’s debate, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was asked about the “genuine philosophical differences” between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry on health care. To which Gingrich responded, “I’m frankly not interested in your effort to get Republicans fighting with each other.” He added, “I for one – and I hope all of my friends up here — are going to repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans to fight each other to protect Barack Obama, who deserves to be defeated…”

It’s clear to me Gingrich was itching for a fight with the news media, continuing a pattern that began at the last GOP debate. People can decide for themselves how effective that strategy is. I find it slightly off-putting, though I know that many in the base, who have contempt for the media, probably find it refreshing.

My main disagreement with Gingrich goes deeper than that. I actually believe primaries are for spelling out differences among the candidates, not cheering one another on. They should do so, of course, in an intelligent, informed and properly respectful fashion. But I had no problem at all with spirited debates and sharp differences, even sparks, whether it’s Romney v. Perry or Santorum v. Paul or Bachmann v. Pawlenty. In fact, it’s quite useful. After all, the primary season is for testing – and I can promise you that whatever the Republican candidates will say about one another will pale in comparison to what the Obama campaign will do to them.

It’s better that we find out now, sooner rather than later, who can take a punch – and who can deliver one.

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