It was money that won the primary for Mitt, but it didn’t make voters like him—and it won’t make the GOP rank and file show up to the polls in November.
Romney and the super PAC supporting him spent more than $15 million on television ads. Team Gingrich spent about $3 million. Both ran almost entirely negative campaigns. One tally estimated that 93 percent of all the ads were negative. The other 7 percent were wasted.
Victory is always sweet, but this one could leave Romney feeling a little sour. Gingrich called Romney’s strategy “carpet-bombing.” Fair enough. But what then do we call Gingrich’s strategy? Kamikaze? Gingrich strapped on his helmet, slugged down some sake, jumped in his Zero, and dive-bombed into the SS Romney. He didn’t sink Romney’s aircraft carrier, but he did some serious damage. Romney is likely to list even farther to starboard, as he is forced to pander even more to the far right.
Gingrich and his allies called Romney “despicable,” “breathlessly dishonest,” and, worst of all, “liberal.” It was not enough to win, or even to make it close, but it was enough to damage Romney in November, should he emerge as the GOP standard bearer. One in four GOP voters in Florida expressed dissatisfaction with the field; a full 53 percent of Gingrich voters said they would not be happy with a Romney-led ticket. To be sure, they’re not going to jump ship and vote for Obama. But they could stay home. They could refuse to give money or make calls or turn out their friends and neighbors. If Romney is the nominee, a lot of Republicans are going to sit on their hands.
As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama battled across 50 states and seven districts and territories in 2008 there was some bitterness, to be sure. But it was mostly confined to the upper echelons of Hillaryland and Barackistan. At the grassroots you heard time and again, “I’m for Barack, but I’m not against Hillary.” Florida Republicans voted against Newt Gingrich; they did not vote for Mitt Romney.
Money begets money. Romney not only has the greatest personal fortune in the GOP field, he has the most well-funded campaign. And perhaps even more important, the super PAC supporting him dwarfs those of his competitors. An analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project shows outside spending on Campaign 2012 is up 1,600 percent over 2008. Romney’s allies have mastered this new tactic. (Full disclosure: I advise the pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action.)
The campaign will now stagger through the February doldrums. Romney is very likely to win the Nevada caucuses, which he dominated in 2008. He will almost certainly continue to carpet-bomb Gingrich over the airwaves. But there’s a difference between persuading voters to hate Newt Gingrich—which, frankly, is pretty easy—and getting them to love Mitt Romney, which appears to be well-nigh impossible.
ByL Paul Begala, The Daily Beast, January 31, 2012
Thirty-four years ago, Newt Gingrich summed it up. In a speech to College Republicans—shortly before he would win his first election to Congress—the future speaker had a piece of fundamental advice for the young and impressionable GOPers: “I think one of the great problems we have in the Republican party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty. We encourage you to be neat, obedient, and loyal, and faithful and all those Boy Scout words.”
Nasty—that was a critical component of Gingrich’s formula for political success. And through the 1980s and 1990s, as Gingrich wielded his nastiness to overturn the Democratic order in Congress and seize the people’s House for the GOP, he was hailed by Republicans. Now, following his 47 to 32 percent loss to Mitt Romney in the Florida presidential primary and Gingrich’s promise—make that, threat—to pursue this nasty nomination contest all the way to the convention in sweltering Tampa in August, the Republican Party has a monster-of-its-own-creation in its china shop. (Imagine a Tasmanian devil in Tiffany & Co.) Despite Romney’s 15-point comeback victory, it seems that the GOP will still be burdened and discombobulated by the Wrath of Gingrich. During his concession speech Tuesday night—which was light on the concession—Gingrich vowed to contest every primary and caucus, as his supporters held up signs that said, “46 STATES TO GO.”
It’s not uncommon for political losers to hang on longer than they should. (See Rick Perry.) So Gingrich’s vow to ignore the play-nice-and-get-out pleas of the Republican establishment and battle all the way to the summer is not surprising. But if he is serious about vengeance, he will have to cling on for longer than a week or two. February’s primaries—Nevada and Maine (February 4); Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri (February 7); and Arizona and Michigan (February 28)—hold few opportunities for the goblin of Georgia. These states are Romney-friendly and not well-suited for Gingrich’s fire-breathing and not-so-coded rants against food stamps and Saul Alinsky. If he wants Romney’s blood, he will have to stay in the hunt until at least Super Tuesday, where he can try to work his dark magic on his home state of Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Idaho. Alabama and Mississippi come a week later.
This means another five or six weeks at least of Gingrich’s not-so-creative destruction, with him hurling his patented nastiness at Romney—and Romney both firing back and, more important, trying to keep up with Gingrich’s extreme anti-Obamaism.