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Newt and Mitt: Two guys with issues

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
updated 8:07 AM EST, Tue February 7, 2012
Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney still must answer some basic questions for voters, says Gloria Borger.
Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney still must answer some basic questions for voters, says Gloria Borger.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gloria Borger: The GOP race comes down to two candidates with questions
  • She says Mitt Romney hasn't figured out how to talk to Americans about money
  • Borger says Newt Gingrich hasn't been able to gain control of his anger at Romney
  • She says it's not turning out to be the kind of campaign Americans wanted

Editor's note: Gloria Borger is CNN's chief political analyst, appearing regularly on shows such as "AC360˚" "The Situation Room," "John King USA" and "State of the Union."

(CNN) -- So after all of this drama in the Republican race, we have two major candidates with some very basic questions left unanswered: For Mitt Romney, it's the most basic query of all -- "Who am I?" (Moderate or conservative? Warm or cold? Very rich or very, very rich?) As for Newt Gingrich, he's got to explain to voters that "I'm-not-who-you-think-I-am." (And then behaves as the angry, unpredictable man they think he is.)

So let's start with Romney. In life, he's "to the manor born,'' no doubt about it. Yes, he made his own fortune, but he also inherited one (and then gave it away). Yet oddly, he can't figure out how to walk and chew gum at the same time; that is, proudly describe his earned wealth while at the same time making the case that he understands how tough it is for the Average (or Below-Average) Joe. Discussion of money -- whether it's his own taxes or the safety net for the poor -- leaves him flummoxed.

No wonder the public might get a tad confused. The man who is running as the right person with the right business experience for America can't figure out a way to talk about his own personal business. Not a good sign. When the candidate is uncomfortable, it shows. And it's not reassuring.

Gloria Borger
Gloria Borger

It's also worrisome for conservatives when Romney talks about the minimum wage (as in indexing it to the rate of inflation) and says he would fix the social safety net if it had holes. Republicans, in case Romney hasn't noticed, believe a growing economy lifts all boats, and a government-funded safety net isn't the way to go. As for the minimum wage, Republicans believe that raising it is a guaranteed job killer.

"It's clear he doesn't really get the entire intellectual framework for conservative economic arguments," says one dispirited Romney supporter. "No wonder he has a tough time talking about it."

Then there's Gingrich, who has a tougher time listening than talking. Exhibit A: his post-Nevada speech Saturday night. After two days locked in meetings with advisers, donors and supporters -- many of whom encouraged him to stop focusing on Romney's character and start focusing on his policies -- Gingrich proceeded to hammer Romney.

So the candidate who needs to explain to voters that he's not the evil, erratic, disgraced former speaker holds a news conference to denounce Romney's "fundamentally dishonest' campaign." He then went on to explain that when Romney wins contests, he is "suppressing turnout." In other words, if Romney is nominated, GOP voters won't turn out to support him. Very helpful.

Here's the problem for Gingrich: He can't help but play into his own caricature. Simply put, he seems, well, unable to control the public expression of his own anger, and there's something that really sticks in his craw, according to one source who has communicated with Gingrich: It's the Romney ad which says Gingrich resigned from the speakership 'in disgrace."

While the ad links Gingrich's ethics problems to his resignation, that was not the case. He resigned after the GOP took a drubbing in midterm elections in 1998.

"Gingrich is very upset," says one source with knowledge of Gingrich's sentiments. "He's furious about it. And the result is that it makes it even harder for the Romney people to have any kind of a sensible conversation with him."

Lest you forget, Gingrich is an historian. He has a vision of himself in history as a transformational political figure -- not as an ethically challenged leader who resigned in "disgrace."

"This is not the epic storyline Newt wants," continues this source.

And it's not the campaign the voters wanted, either.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

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