A Rocky Road for the Frontrunner
by The Milton Measure on Friday, February 10th, 2012
Following the 2012 GOP primary is like reading a book backwards, a book that ends with Mitt Romney winning the nomination. Beginning this summer, different Republican candidates have surged in the polls. None of the other candidates have managed to defeat the former Massachusetts governor – that is, until January 21, when Iowa declared Rick Santorum the winner of its caucuses and Newt Gingrich captured South Carolina, a state where Mr. Romney had held a double-digit lead for much of the preceding month.
But the winning strategies of Santorum and Gingrich were not easy to replicate. The former Pennsylvania Senator faced time and financial constraints in other states (he had campaigned door-to-door in Iowa to attract voters), while the former House speaker, whose strong debate performances before the South Carolina primary were key to his surprising 12-point win, found very few debates scheduled after January 21 and thus lost his momentum.
In the meantime, Mitt Romney, along with 12 billionaires that donated to the pro-Romney super PAC “Restore Our Future,” fought back with $15.4-million worth of television and radio advertising in Florida, outspending Newt Gingrich five to one. The result was just what Mr. Romney needed – he won big in both Florida and Nevada.
Newt Gingrich, however, is far from dropping out of the race, despite the back-to-back losses. “Our goal is to get to Super Tuesday where we are in much more favorable territory,” Mr. Gingrich said on NBC’s Meet the Press. Indeed, he has savaged Mr. Romney over his record at Bain Capital in preparation for Super Tuesday (March 6), when southern states such as Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee will vote. Mr. Gingrich was especially successful in pressing Mr. Romney for details about his taxes; Mr. Romney released his 2010 and 2011 tax returns last month, something he had never done before, even when he was elected governor of Massachusetts. The disclosure not only showed that Mr. Romney’s pays an effective tax rate of only 14%, but also revealed a vast array of investments, including a recently closed Swiss bank account and holdings in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. Mr. Gingrich immediately began casting Mr. Romney as a heartless capitalist happy to fire others in order to enrich himself.
In fact, Mitt Romney’s gaffes throughout the campaign trail have earned him a “tough, callous” image. Most recently, in an interview, Mr. Romney stated “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there.” After a sharp backlash, Mr. Romney claimed that the quote is merely a sound bite and that he meant he wanted to fix any holes in the safety net.
It is no wonder that Romney’s national approval rate dropped to only 31% according to the latest PPP poll, with 41% deeming him to be unfavorable. Romney took a huge hit this past Tuesday when he lost the three most recent primaries to previous third place candidate Rick Santorum. His numerous unprofessional remarks and astonishing wealth (double the wealth of the last eight presidents combined, says the Associated Press) make his lack of concern about ordinary Americans understandable but unacceptable.
So far, Mr. Romney has done very little to soften his image. His main focus of brutally attacking Mr. Gingrich has only attracted more negative reactions and further prevented him from winning over ordinary Americans.
Airing an overwhelming number of negative ads will only bring Mr. Romney short-term benefits. If the front-runner is serious about winning the general election this year, it is time for him to start building his character and humanizing himself before he is further attacked as “detached” from middle class Americans.
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