No sooner than he got the bad news from South Carolina, Mitt Romney did what he does best; but then he went negative with righteous indignation.
Armed with a nearly 5-to-1 edge in spending in Florida he let loose on Newt Gingrich. From Fannie-Mae to Gingrich's purported deficiencies as a historian, Romney returned to those negative methods that marked his Iowa effort. In his debate, he defended himself by challenging all who questioned his wealth to an experience perilously close to a duel.
"How dare they," has been the centerpiece of any Romney response to criticism. In Florida, as in Iowa, this approach seems to have succeeded. Wealthy of the world unite, protect your gated communities at all cost.
He has flayed Gingrich - who, after all, has been successful. While somehow having leveling sentiments, Romney has seemed to have forgotten something. And that something is a message.
Not since George H.W. Bush won in 1988 with a campaign so devoid of content that no one quite knew what it was about has a candidate asked for support based solely on the deficiency of his opponent. Because he has shed so many of his former views, Romney has nothing to hawk. When questioned about what he stands for, he offers up a patriotic homily. As Bush I did against Michael Dukakis, it is all negative. And one must remember that George H.W. raised taxes, forgot all of his tactical adjustments and reverted to being the moderate he always was.
Gingrich tried to campaign on the issues in Iowa and was politically carpet bombed. When he tried to suggest that Romney was quite the coupon clipper, the GOP establishment rose to his defense. As with Reagan, Gingrich tries to campaign on substance, and this sometimes leads him to trouble. But one must remember that Reagan started far back of Jimmy Carter in early 1980 only to rout him by November.
Generally, Reagan and Gingrich produced party victories. George H.W. and later his son won personal triumphs. The tea party election of 2010 was the Gingrich formula of 1994 reborn. The old remnant of the Republican moderate wing is very good at muddying waters. At the very end they produce vagueness such as "a thousand points of light" or "compassionate conservatism." This year Romney is trying to sell his success story - even going so far as citing his large family as proof of his conservatism. Against President Barack Obama, he has to do better than offering himself as the pater familias of pater familias.
For some reason, Democrats following the race have regarded Gingrich as a nuisance. Perhaps deep down they fear him more than the empty seat from Massachusetts. Like Reagan, Gingrich has created enemies because he says what he means. But over the expanse of a campaign, a man of Gingrich's conviction can overcome resistance. In bashing Gingrich so hard, Romney has gone after the soul of his party and is leaving very little reason to lend support except that he is the alternative to Obama. Carter eviscerated Ted Kennedy in 1980 and essentially made the case against the Democratic party and by extension himself.
Perhaps this is the reason Herman Cain endorsed, and Sarah Palin spoke up for, Gingrich. Recognizing that Romney's appeal divided the party, Palin and Cain reminded the former Massachusetts governor not to depend entirely on a vacuous campaign entirely based on negatives. The tea party is serving notice - they will not be placed on permanent leave.