Going dirty has paid off. Mitt Romney has destroyed Newt Gingrich in the Florida primary, by 15 percentage points at that--trouncing him even more thoroughly than Mitt himself was by Newt in South Carolina earlier in the month.
The former Massachusetts governor won the primary through a calculated turn: away from an overall positive and proposal-driven message with Barack Obama as a primary target, to a fully negative message with Newt Gingrich instead as the singular focus of all speeches, statements, and advertisements.
Romney campaigned hard in Florida for more than a week, making multiple appearances a day. Each appearance ratcheted up the tone of his anti-Gingrich spiel, his heat reaching heights that many among Mitt's fellow northeastern Republican elites thought might actually turn voters in the Sunshine State off from their often wooden, occasionally feisty, candidate.
Somehow, the unsteady and uncertain collection of interest groups and narrow slices of electorate that make up the Republican coalition of voters in Florida decided to go for Romney's sudden fire-breathing all-in.
Cuban emigres in the state's southeast, farmers in the central areas, elderly northeastern transplants along the coasts of the peninsula, and southern-minded voters in the panhandle all voted in droves for his angry words, devoid of policy proposals, and for the millionaire former CEO from Massachusetts who spoke to them day after day after day, the mediocre former governor with slick-backed hair and an impossibly clean veneer, and a nine-figure trust fund for his even-more-impossibly clean-looking sons.
In light of the way he won this primary, it was nothing short of ballsy of Mittens, in his victory speech (given c. 7:30 PM Central--quite early for a primary night) to pivot completely away from Gingrich, and instead resurrect his old message: pure opposition to the president based on Mitt's supposed pro-business and pro-military credentials.
At least his anti-Obama stump speech contains some actual proposals for a Romney administration, unlike the past few weeks of Gingrich bashing, which featured literally nothing pro-Romney but was purely anti-Gingrich.
Although it rather struck me when, as I watched the first results roll in from Florida on primary night, I heard Chuck Todd on MSNBC note that it had been 56 days since Romney had mentioned the 59-point economic plan that had been, up until about a month ago, the centerpiece of his campaign plan's domestic policy proposals.
It is a single fact that makes a broad statement about the direction this erstwhile frontrunner's campaign has taken since the onset of Newt Gingrich's most recent upsurge in the polls, in what has amounted to the most potent threat to Romney's candidacy since Herman Cain seemed poised to take over the heart and soul of the Republican Party, before said party showed it continued to possess at least one iota of sense and respectability and threw the pizza guy out from behind his podium.
Indeed, on the night less than two weeks ago when Gingrich won the South Carolina primary, he seemed poised to knock Romney fully off the pedestal of 'Republican front-runner' that the former governor had occupied continuously since McCain lost the last presidential campaign. Romney has spent this time since Obama's victory more than four years ago presuming--as it tends to go in the Republican Party--that, as the graceful runner-up of the last campaign, he would be next in line for the nomination when 2012 came around.
And now here comes this troll from the '90s on his third wife who seems to be doing his very, very best to upset this slick politician and businessman who the comparatively folksy and southern Gingrich sees as predatory and entitled.
Gingrich's concession speech on primary night was just as belligerent as anything else in this campaign, though. He spoke against a solid backdrop of signs reading "46 states to go" in angry white capital letters. His speech was a standard incomprehensible Gringrich stemwinder, interspersed with the standard pseudo-historical Newt fare about the 1800s, and Pearl Harbor, and Abraham Lincoln, and all that stuff that the common folk lap up as thoroughly patriotic but that few of them actually understand. I think Newt said something about Winston Churchill too, on top of a dash of Ronald Reagan. If I'm wrong, Gingrich must have been off his game. Doesn't he have another book of historical fiction coming out soon?
Rachel Maddow is a master of sly observations that, without forcing the truth upon the viewer, make all but her point of view seem eminently foolish within a few sentences nonetheless, and she was on top form tonight. It was not ninety seconds after Governor Romney left the stage after his primary-night victory speech that Dr. Maddow noted how every single pundit, journalist, campaign worker, or politician who had been on MSNBC during the primary coverage that night had commented on how virulent and ugly the rhetoric had gotten in Florida in the lead-up to its primary--every single guest, that is, except the two Romney campaign strategists who had come on with their talking points earlier in the night.
Romney has begun to show a side many of us who knew him back in 2007 have never seen before. He's always been negative when he needs to be, but he's never been so spirited about it; he's never been joyfully sarcastic and snide like this. He spent his victory speech on primary night in Florida not talking about his own plans for his perspective presidency, but instead criticizing Obama for thinking like his buddies "in the faculty lounge," as Mitt put it, and not operating instead with a more common-folk, can-do spirit.
Romney said Obama didn't understand what it was like to "build something out of nothing." As if Romney--whose father was a Governor, a national leader in the Mormon Church, and a millionaire--ever started anything in his charmed life with 'nothing.'
Romney is a charming man compared to Newt Gingrich, and the former governor will almost certainly beat Newt for this year's Republican nomination. In the end, this reporter does not feel that question is really even open anymore.
What does remain to be seen, however, is how low Governor Romney and his campaign are willing to go to ensure their victory in this greying-templed, sixty-four-year-old power-monger's second try on the wild merry-go-round of a national presidential campaign, and whether or not this former CEO and corporate raider can withstand close inspection by American voters in a presidential campaign against a Democratic president with a strongly populist economic record in this second economy-centric election in a row.
This is going to be ugly, all the way to November. Four full years past the end of the Bush Era--and arguably, the end of the Reagan Era as well--this reporter is not sure how much lower the United States Republican Party can go. Let's see.
About the author: Ian MacIsaac is a staff writer for the Capital City Free Press. He is a history major at Auburn University Montgomery in Montgomery, Alabama and former co-editor of the school newspaper, the AUMnibus.
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