Can't Buy Me Votes

01.31.12

Money Changed Everything for Mitt Romney in Florida Primary

It was money that won the primary for Mitt, but it didn’t make voters like him—and it won’t make the GOP rank and file show up to the polls in November, says Paul Begala. Plus, read more Daily Beast contributors on what Romney’s win means.

Mitt Romney crushed Newt Gingrich not with charm or wit or eloquence. He buried him in a mountain of money.

Romney and the super PAC supporting him spent more than $15 million on television ads. Team Gingrich spent about $3 million. Both ran almost entirely negative campaigns. One tally estimated that 93 percent of all the ads were negative. The other 7 percent were wasted.

Victory is always sweet, but this one could leave Romney feeling a little sour. Gingrich called Romney's strategy "carpet-bombing." Fair enough. But what then do we call Gingrich's strategy? Kamikaze? Gingrich strapped on his helmet, slugged down some sake, jumped in his Zero, and dive-bombed into the SS Romney. He didn't sink Romney's aircraft carrier, but he did some serious damage. Romney is likely to list even farther to starboard, as he is forced to pander even more to the far right.

Florida Republicans voted against Newt Gingrich; they did not vote for Mitt Romney.

Gingrich and his allies called Romney "despicable," "breathlessly dishonest," and, worst of all, "liberal." It was not enough to win, or even to make it close, but it was enough to damage Romney in November, should he emerge as the GOP standard bearer. One in four GOP voters in Florida expressed dissatisfaction with the field; a full 53 percent of Gingrich voters said they would not be happy with a Romney-led ticket. To be sure, they're not going to jump ship and vote for Obama. But they could stay home. They could refuse to give money or make calls or turn out their friends and neighbors. If Romney is the nominee, a lot of Republicans are going to sit on their hands.

As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama battled across 50 states and seven districts and territories in 2008 there was some bitterness, to be sure. But it was mostly confined to the upper echelons of Hillaryland and Barackistan. At the grassroots you heard time and again, "I'm for Barack, but I'm not against Hillary." Florida Republicans voted against Newt Gingrich; they did not vote for Mitt Romney.

Money begets money. Romney not only has the greatest personal fortune in the GOP field, he has the most well-funded campaign. And perhaps even more important, the super PAC supporting him dwarfs those of his competitors. An analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project shows outside spending on Campaign 2012 is up 1,600 percent over 2008. Romney's allies have mastered this new tactic. (Full disclosure: I advise the pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action.)

The campaign will now stagger through the February doldrums. Romney is very likely to win the Nevada caucuses, which he dominated in 2008. He will almost certainly continue to carpet-bomb Gingrich over the airwaves. But there's a difference between persuading voters to hate Newt Gingrich—which, frankly, is pretty easy—and getting them to love Mitt Romney, which appears to be well-nigh impossible.

Read More Daily Beast Contributors about the Florida Primary:
Michael Tomasky: It’s Over for Newt
John Avlon: This Race Is Far From Over
Michelle Goldberg: Why Liberals Should Love Newt
David Frum: Gingrich Knows It’s Over
& More