One thing is clear this primary season: nobody wants to have the grown-up discussion about how Republicans and Tea Partiers actually defeat Barack Obama this November. The conservative media is too busy squabbling over whether more conservative angels dance on Newt’s head or Mitt’s. We’re not seeing questions like these talked about in any substantive fashion:

  • Which states will be most in play this cycle and which groups of independent swing voters need to be targeted?
  • How have technological advances in the last four years provided campaigns with new methods to engage voters?
  • Less important than who said what about Ronald Reagan decades ago is what will be said about Barack Obama in the fall. What will be the focus of the campaign? Obamacare? Jobs? Debt? That the economy would be much healthier without the uncertainty of Obama’s programs?
  • What media strategies will be most effective in 2012? What kinds of ads need to be made?

Meanwhile, right under our noses, Mitt Romney’s method of challenging Newt Gingrich in Florida begins to offer an answer to this last question.

John Avlon gets a choice quote from a Florida GOP insider at The Daily Beast on Romney in Attack Mode:

“The Romney camp made a very clear decision that this was going to be somebody’s Waterloo,” says Rick Wilson, a legendary Republican operative and CEO of Florida-based Intrepid Media. “In the past, a 60–40 positive to negative ratio in ads used to be considered a heavy load. But that world is just gone.”

“The scope and effectiveness of their negative campaigning have been breathtaking—and it’s all paid off,” says Wilson. “They figured out on the fly that Romney showing fight and backbone—not being a squishy-soft, mealy-mouthed, half-assed campaigner—could bear dividends with conservatives. Because everything comes down to ‘will we have a candidate who takes it hard to Obama?’… And he’s narrowed the gap. Tea Party conservatives are split between Romney and Gingrich—which would have been unimaginable in South Carolina.”

Will Romney’s willingness to campaign hard be an asset in the general election against Obama? Will forcefulness from the generally more mild-mannered Mormon Mitt be regarded with more seriousness by the independent voter than the Gingrichian rage that seems to flow at the slightest provocation? What does this strategy in Florida suggest about Team Mitt’s ability to craft specific-state strategies in the general?

Right now the contest of Romney vs Gingrich is no longer about who is the mythical “true conservative,” but rather who is the more competent political strategist.