Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Is the GOP Demolition Derby Most Helping Democrats?

A long grueling primary fight can often most help the opposing political party as the primary contenders bludgeon each other and often provide the opposing party with future campaign ad materials. In addition, less engaged voters may become tired of the whole process and sick to death of hearing about candidates thus giving the opposing party candidate the opportunity to appear fresher and less damaged. In the context of the GOP clown car demolition derby, may have vanquished serial adulterer Newt Gingrich, but the contest is taking a toll on Romney as well. Here are highlights from a New York Times piece that evaluates the aftermath:

With his resounding victory over Newt Gingrich in Florida on Tuesday, Mitt Romney showed a worried Republican base a side of himself that it has both longed for and feared that he lacked: the agile political street fighter, willing to mock, scold and ultimately eviscerate his opponent.

But if he has quelled doubts about his toughness, he also emerges from the Florida free-for-all and the three contests that preceded it carrying heavy new baggage.

Mr. Romney was savaged by Mr. Gingrich over his record at Bain Capital
, softening him up for the coming Democratic effort to portray him as a heartless capitalist happy to fire people to enrich himself. His release of his tax returns, complete with details about a Swiss bank account, provided new facts for opponents seeking to cast him as out of touch with ordinary Americans.

And the very trait that propelled him in Florida — a willingness to descend into the muck and run a relentlessly negative campaign — distracted from his economic-themed argument against Mr. Obama while deepening his rift with some populist conservatives.

“There are questions about his wealth and Bain, but he has not become an intensely polarizing figure yet,” said Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist who worked on Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign in 2008. “The question is, will he become that?”

Mr. Romney himself seemed sensitive to the perception that his campaign has become locked in a bitter — and counterproductive — war of words with his leading Republican rival.

His challenge is about to become even more complicated. As much as he would like to be punching and counterpunching with Mr. Obama, he must still contend with Mr. Gingrich, who even after his steep loss described the primaries as a two-man nomination fight across 46 more states.

Mr. Romney faces a classic dilemma in presidential politics: Going negative is never an appealing option, but the alternative amounts to unilateral disarmament and a much higher likelihood of defeat, especially against a rival like Mr. Gingrich who has little to lose.

“In primary politics, short-term gains are what matters, because if you don’t have the short-term gains, you won’t be around long enough to deal with the long-term problems,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

[I]f Mr. Romney has to engage in a long stretch of negative campaigning against Mr. Gingrich, the challenge will be to hit back hard enough that he does not leave himself exposed to another Gingrich comeback without undercutting his own image. A candidate who comes across as attacking too viciously and personally risks turning off all but the most partisan voters.

Determined not to lose in Florida, Mr. Romney unleashed a wave of attacks on Mr. Gingrich’s finances, ethics and even stability — hammered repeatedly in TV commercials, conference calls, e-mails and speeches — that helped stoke the image of Mr. Gingrich as an “erratic” and “unreliable” leader.

The balance that Mr. Romney is trying to strike in his battle against Mr. Gingrich is one he also has to strike if he ends up facing Mr. Obama, whose aides have made clear that a general election campaign against him will be highly personal.

Mr. Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, took to Twitter to mock Mr. Romney for a line about Europe in his victory speech. “If he dislikes it so,” she asked, “why is he betting against the American dollar with his own Swiss bank account?

Given all the factors, personally, I don't see myself with much of an option but to hold my nose and continue to support Obama. Romney's positions on LGBT rights and the anti-gay groups he has helped fund make the choice pretty easy. Yes, some of my former Republican colleagues - some of whom seem to have begun to drink the Christianist Kool-Aid - will accuse me of being a single issue voter. My response is that since I lack hundreds of rights afforded to straights under the nation's laws, I'm actually motivated by hundreds of issues.

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