If Mitt Romney wishes to lock up the Republican nomination and rally those parts of the conservative base which remain cool to him, he would be wise to learn from Newt Gingrich’s defeat in Florida. The returns last night in the Sunshine State were as much a defeat for Newt Gingrich as they were for Mitt Romney’s organization.
Had Newt shown greater class in responding his primary opponent’s negative ads, he might have done better last night. He’s been in politics now for close to forty years — and been the subject of some pretty ruthless attacks. Why, one wonders, was he not been prepared for them?
He’s been though this before — in this very campaign. Byron York reminds us that when “Gingrich reacted angrily and publicly” to Romney’s attack ads in Iowa, “Voters in New Hampshire who were once open to Gingrich’s candidacy turned away from him, saying his hot-tempered response to the ads — rather than the ads themselves — just turned them off.” (Emphasis added.)
Gingrich saw his fortunes shift in South Carolina only after he ceased attacking Romney on Bain Capital. When “he moved back to talking about the issues,” York recalls, “he won decisively.”
Even Rush Limbaugh has been telling Gingrich to stop whining. Ed Morrissey contends his plaints as a sign that the former Speaker would wither in the face of a far more ruthless opponent than the man who vanquished him last night, “As Rush says, if Newt’s whining about this, how can we expect him to handle what a billion-dollar campaign will lay out against him in the fall?”
To win Florida, York contends, “Gingrich had two must-dos:” 1) respond calmly to Romney’s attacks; “and 2) keep up the solid message he rode to victory in South Carolina.” Roger Simon agrees with that latter point:
After his solid victory in South Carolina, Gingrich did not continue the obvious strategy that got him there – running against Barack Obama by presenting himself to Republican voters as the great orator and thinker who could bring down the noxious incumbent, the man who rose above internecine intra-party squabbles for the greater good of his country.
Instead, he did the exact opposite. He spent the balance of his time in Florida running against Romney when he had already beaten the former governor in South Carolina. Talk about dumb. Newt let his personal antipathy overwhelm his good sense. He played defense about the picayune and the irrelevant when he should have played offense on the philosophical and substantial.
Now that Romney has beaten the former Speaker in Florida, he needs avoid his Republican rival’s mistakes. Instead of attacking said rival, he needs to focus on his message, much in the spirit of his speech last night. He should play offense by hitting Obama on the issues, putting forward ideas to repeal the policies that retard job creation and which unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people.
Romney would do well to release a tax reform proposal before the “Super Tuesday” primaries in March. His one-time rival, now supporter, has just such a plan already prepared.