Thursday, February 02, 2012

Nattering Nabob Of Negatism

David Horsey's latest column focuses on the successful use of negative campaigning by the Romney camp the last few days before the Florida primary. The target of most of the attack ads was, of course, Newt Gingrich.

Mitt Romney won the Florida Republican presidential primary in the nastiest way.

From the beginning of the year to primary election day, the Romney campaign and super PACs allied with Romney paid millions of dollars for 12,768 television ads. According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, 99% of them were attacks on Newt Gingrich. In the same period, Gingrich and his supporters bought just 210 TV ads. While the majority of them slammed Romney, at least some were positive advertisements for Gingrich.

CMAG concluded that, with 92% of the total TV ads going on the attack, the Florida promary set a new record for negativity.

What does it say about a candidate who wins this way? Did people really vote for Romney or simply against a monster created from distortions, misrepresentations and mendacity? ...

At least Florida has given us clarity about one thing concerning the man most likely to be the Republican nominee: If he cannot win by swaying our hearts and minds, he'll win by making us fear and loathe whoever stands in his way.

Without going into the issue of who started it, or who provoked it, it's clear that Romney did suddenly shift from the urbane and genial robo-candidate to the swamp monster pictured in the cartoon Horsey used to illustrate his point. And it apparently worked, which wasn't difficult to predict, given Gingrich's rather juicy history. Of course, the press helped the process along by reporting on some of the more inflammatory ads rather extensively, thereby giving those commercials additional and free airtime.

One thing that the burst of attack ads reminded us of is that they generally are successful. People tend to remember the negative message more easily than the positive one, and are influenced accordingly. In this case, the message went to the issue of electability, but it just as easily have gone to the issue of "flip-flopping" on key issues, which appeared to be the subject of most of the Romney opponents' ads. I guess Ronald Reagan's Eleventh Commandment doesn't apply during nomination campaigns.

And, given what appears to be the bottomless pockets of both Romney and Gingrich at this point (thanks to Citizens United), we can expect the attack ads to continue. Gingrich claims he will stay in the race to the convention, or at least for another six months. Whether Gingrich will last after Super Tuesday (March 7) remains to be seen.

So, it's off to Nevada.



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