As expected, the battle for Florida has turned particularly nasty as Mitt Romney and his numerous surrogates escalate their war on Newt Gingrich. Politico is reporting that Mitt Romney is mudslinging all over the campaign trail, heaping harsh words on Newt Gingrich. The word that Romney and his surrogates seem to like most is “disgrace” or “embarrassment.” I don’t know what is more disgraceful or embarrassing than a desperate candidate running around making such attacks. Romney’s shift into ultra-negative territory is a clear attempt to try to move undecided voters away from Gingrich, but I think it’s clear that the net effect will tend to hurt Romney in the broader audience. On Sunday, the country watched Romney’s shills run out into the media to deliver scathing attacks on Gingrich, but I doubt it’s very effective. Traveling in Florida, in Ormond Beach, Romney said of Gingrich:
“Speaker Gingrich has also been a leader,” the former Massachusetts governor said. “He was a leader for four years as speaker of the House. And at the end of four years, it was proven that he was a failed leader and he had to resign in disgrace. I don’t know whether you knew that, he actually resigned after four years, in disgrace.”
That’s a scathing attack, but the trouble is it’s not reflective of what really happened. As a matter of fact, Gingrich was ousted by his own party, who feared that he had been the source of some losses in the 1998 election cycle. Romney went on:
“He was investigated over an ethics panel and had to make a payment associated with that and then his fellow Republicans, 88 percent of his Republicans voted to reprimand Speaker Gingrich. He has not had a record of successful leadership.”
Let it be said that Romney is skating on thin ice on a factual basis here. He was “investigated.” Yes, he was. Was he found guilty? No, he was not. The “payment associated” was to defray legal expenses but notice that Romney was at least smart enough not to use the word “fines” as is the template elsewhere in the media, and from his own surrogates. Romney knows that narrative is false, but he still wants to make mileage from it.
As you may remember, on Sunday, Romney surrogates Ann Coulter and Chris Christie took their respective on-camera shots at Gingrich, with Coulter actually suggesting the people of South Carolina were emotionally-drive and stupid. Meanwhile, the Governor of New Jersey appeared on another network to say Gingrich had embarrassed the party. In a state with a strong Tea Party contingent, I don’t think Coulter’s approach will make many friends for Romney, and insofar as Christie is concerned, well, you can be the judge of the term “embarrassment” and to whom it is rightly applied.
This run-up to the Florida primary is going to be a barn-burner. You can expect Romney and his surrogates, as well as the SuperPACs who support him to continue their scorched-earth campaign against Gingrich, but it’s beginning to look desperate. Rather than explaining why voters should support Mitt, they’re doing their best to say why voters shouldn’t support Gingrich, but that’s far from a positive campaign of the sort Romney once promised. It also doesn’t motivate voters to support him. Romney is in real trouble, and he knows it. The media is only too willing to help him, but whether they can effectively sling mud after last week’s obvious last-minute smear is another matter. Voters may have had quite enough of that, this season.