Yes, negative ads work and they are part of the election process, but trust me that these candidates are writing the script for Obama’s re-election campaign. It’s not just about whether the Republican Party heals itself by the time the ultimate nominee takes on Obama; it is also about the intensity of voter turnout for the GOP nominee. Has it dawned on any of these candidates that hurling the vilest personal attacks or declaring that a candidate would not vote for another creates bad blood among not only the candidates but also their supporters?
At first, I was shocked at the level of attack leveled at Newt Gingrich. But that’s old news now. Since then, Ron Paul has been savaged, and Mitt Romney has been called everything but a communist. Newt’s decision to take on Romney as a “Massachusetts moderate” will likely have only the impact of giving conservative Republicans a reason to be less enthusiastic about Romney should he be the nominee.
Understand that I was in charge of the most recent truly contested Republican primary Newt ran in, admittedly many years ago. Let me put it this way: He is a much better elected leader than he is a campaign manager for his own cause. And he has been attacked viciously.
And virtually every candidate has been part of the bloody trail that has turned into this year’s Republican presidential race. Michele Bachmann basically was so blatant in her early attacks that she turned voters off and had a failure to launch. Rick Perry has been rising in the polls, but his assault on his opponents was strong and powerful. And Paul went straight for Gingrich’s neck as soon as Gingrich emerged as the leader in the race. Rick Santorum has been no angel, but he may end up coming across that way by the time the caucuses are held in Iowa.
What these knuckleheads have not noticed while savaging one another in the cold of Iowa is how quickly the political weather has been changing everywhere else. Have they heard all of the “optimism” being expressed about our economy? I believe that news about retail sales bouncing back, jobless rates dropping substantially and a vibrant new economy in 2012 will prove to be hasty and incorrect. All of this “great news” being reported may turn out to be much like the announcement that existing-home sales rose a bit in recent weeks, which came from the same association that had to admit it had overestimated sales of homes between 2007 and 2010 by more than 3 million.
But rather than focus on dealing with the reality versus fiction coming from the White House or on trade associations in D.C., these candidates have focused on the reality and fiction about their opponents. This will have repercussions. Does Newt think the Paul supporters will turn out for him after he declared he never could vote for Paul? Does Romney understand that in the critically important Southern states, his brand of slash-and-burn attacks may backfire on him? Yes, you need to run a competitive campaign, but everyone pulling out the bloodiest of knives in Iowa — a state whose winner often does not make it to the nomination — is insane. The winner of Iowa appears to be Barack Obama.
All I can say is that the ultimate Republican nominee should get ready to bend down there and kiss a lot of rear ends. Come to think of it, he won’t have to bend down; all of those rear ends will be on the various losers’ shoulders.
Matt Towery of Atlanta ieads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage.