Congratulations, America: you survived January of 2012, along with its four super-hyped primaries and its eleventy-billion debates. Your reward? A snoozy February, with some primaries and caucuses that will not draw the same level of media attention and only one debate scheduled between now and March. That's good news for everyone -- especially if you are named "Mitt Romney."
Yes, this week, as expected, Mitt won the Florida Primary in a rout, and successfully "altered" the "narrative" and "changed" the "complexion" of the race. Again. And he did it the new-fashioned way: he had his super PAC minions carpetbomb the Sunshine State into oblivion, with wave after wave of toxic attack ads on his closest rival, Newt Gingrich. The end result? Romney is once again looking like the inevitable nominee, and Gingrich is once again looking for a venue in which he can win between now and Super Tuesday.
Numbers from CMAG show a total of 11,586 television spots aired in Florida between Jan. 23 and Jan. 29. Of those spots, 10,633 were negative and 953 were positive.
Of the 1,012 spots Newt Gingrich's campaign ran, 95 percent were negative. Mitt Romney's campaign ran 3,276 ads and 99 percent were negative.
The two super PACs supporting the top candidates were more divergent in their ad strategies. Restore our Future, supporting Romney, ran 4,969 spots, all of which were negative. The Gingrich-backing Winning our Future ran 1,893 spots, and only 53 percent were negative.
Correspondingly, the bulk of ads in Florida -- 68 percent -- were negative toward Gingrich. Twenty-three percent were anti-Romney spots. Gingrich got support from 9 percent of ads while pro-Romney spots accounted for less than 0.1 percent.
Check out that last data point. Romney and his super PAC ran over 8,000 ads in Florida, and hardly any of them even attempted to make a pro-Romney case! This is pretty remarkable considering that, four years ago, the eventual nominee, John McCain, was heavy on hagiography and inspiration. The new era of super PACs has changed everything. Romney didn't even need to make an affirmative case for himself in Florida. He just dropped thousands of negative ads and obliterated his competition, as easy as pressing the "smart bomb" button on the old Defender arcade game.
This underscores something we've already said about the Romney campaign: the more they are able to keep the most annoying thing about the Mitt Romney campaign -- Mitt Romney himself -- out of sight, the better they do. They're great at pummeling the competition, defending Romney's record and pivoting to the general election matchup with President Barack Obama as if it's pre-ordained. Things only start to go wrong when Romney does things like "meet people" or "speak in public." That's when he starts doing stupid things like making five-figure bets with Rick Perry, or describing the pleasure he takes from firing people, or...you know, saying things like, "I’m not concerned with the very poor."
It says a lot about how confident the Romney team is about their chances that they were willing to let Mitt do something as transcendentally stupid as accept an endorsement from Donald Trump. After all, standing on a stage with Trump is only going to point out every vulture-clown capitalist image you can call to mind. What's more, Trump's endorsement isn't worth anything -- as Ana Marie Cox points out today:
Polling shows Trump a net drag on any chosen candidate. In September, Fox found that it would make people 31 percent less likely to vote for someone, with 62 percent saying it would make no difference at all. Before the New Hampshire primary, an NBC poll found that a Trump endorsement would have a negative impact on 42 percent of that state's voters. A Pew poll found a Trump endorsement to have the most negative impact of any given by leading GOP figures.
The only explanation is that Romney's campaign team is so sure of themselves that they needed to do something a little self-destructive, just to make things exciting.
Maybe they'll pay for their hubris. Gingrich and Rick Santorum have both vowed to continue their campaigns, and if you're Ron Paul, you're really only getting started on the campaign strategy you've mapped out for yourself. Newt will tell you that he -- like Reagan -- has been counted out before, only to somehow re-emerge. For Santorum, the road ahead takes him to states where he might end up being Mitt's closest competition. Romney's technique of dumping gallons of acid on the airwaves may work in the short term, but it constantly courts a backlash from voters who are sick of the filth.
Most importantly, February offers all of these candidates a chance to take a breath, rethink and regroup. Unfortunately, February also offers the opportunity to be forgotten. For everything you'll want to remember from this week on the campaign trail, please enter the Speculatron for Feb. 3, 2012.
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