John McCain: Send Newt Gingrich To the Moon!

LAKELAND, Fla. - Get your space suit ready Newt. John McCain wants to send you to the moon.

"I think we ought to send Newt Gingrich to the moon and Mitt Romney to the White House," McCain said at a town hall here as he proudly unveiled a newly minted joke. "What do you think about that?"

Earlier in the week, Gingrich promised to establish a permanent base on the moon by the end of his second term as president along with providing flights to Mars by 2020.

McCain lauded Romney's debate performance Thursday evening, calling it a "home run," but also decried the emphasis placed on debates in this campaign cycle.

"Because someone debates well does not mean necessarily they would be a good president," McCain told reporters. "I'm deeply concerned about the fact that the tenor of these quote debates are now just insulting one another. They're driving up disapproval ratings of all of them and will harm us in our effort to win the presidency, and the president sitting on the sidelines and watching has gained from it. "

McCain said the debates have "deteriorated into mud wrestling." The senator later corrected himself saying debates have turned into "mud slinging."

Gingrich has attempted to characterize the criticism emanating from prominent Republicans as coming from the "establishment," which McCain said is not accurate, even noting that he's not part of the establishment but instead a "maverick."

"I think that the Gingrich campaign is very intelligent in calling it quote the establishment. I've never considered myself quote establishment, but I guess that's the only defense you have when you see such large numbers of Republican leaders coming over to the Romney campaign," McCain said.

McCain, who touted his "Straight Talk" mantra throughout the 2008 election, got out in front of the candidate a bit when asked who Romney should pick as a running mate.

"Straight talk. Marco Rubio," said McCain as he proceeded to extol the virtues of the Florida senator.