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?
Here’s what Gingrich said about it: “What a pathetic situation to be running for president of the United States with nothing positive to say for yourself and nothing available, a big idea, a big vision, a big future, and all you’ve got is to tear your opponents down so they get to be smaller than you are.”
Of course, as usual, Gigrich’s remarks are self-serving. His distortions of Romney’s record were equally outlandish and cynical. Still, he raises a salient question about Romney that goes beyond the man’s willingness to destroy his opponents by any means. What is the point of Romney’s candidacy? Beyond patriotic bromides and the usual vague conservative rhetoric about lower taxes and unleashed capitalism, Romney has not articulated a purpose for his prospective presidency. Gingrich, at least, has some explicit plans for what he’d do in the Oval Office, however grandiose some of them may be.
Romney’s biggest weakness throughout the campaign has been that most voters perceive a hollowness in his message and hold a huge measure of doubt about what he truly believes. Just as the other Republican candidates have been vying to be the not-Romney alternative, Romney seems to be running as the not-Obama and not much more.
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.