But going after even such a fat target as Gingrich as aggressively as Romney did creates blowback. The negative tone of the race turns off voters and makes it more difficult for a candidate to explain why they ought to be for him, not merely reject his opponent.
In Romney’s case, that’s especially crucial because even after his years on the campaign trail, Republicans don’t really like him. Many of them sense that for all his pretense of being a conservative, he’s really a “Massachusetts moderate,” as Gingrich insists.
So it looks as if throwing all that swill at Gingrich may help Romney win the nomination while it simultaneously sets him up for defeat in the fall. According to a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that came out last week, Romney’s unfavorability rating among independents has leaped 20 percent in the last two months.
Overall, he is rated very or somewhat negatively by 36 percent, versus only 31 percent who give him a very or somewhat positive rating. A separate Washington Post/ABC poll showed that Romney’s negative ratings among independents had jumped to 51 percent.
Meanwhile, Obama’s favorability ratings have been creeping up. As recently as November, Romney was trouncing Obama 47 percent to 34 percent among independents in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Now the president is thumping Romney 44 percent to 36 percent. According to exit polls, 38 percent of those who voted in the Florida GOP primary wish some other candidate were running.
What seems to be happening as Romney slogs his way through the mud to the nomination is that voters are starting to focus on the hard choice they will have to make in November, between two actual candidates. And when they compare the reality of Romney — a fat cat who has provided little rationale for his candidacy beyond the fact that he’s really, really, really rich and has a great haircut — with Obama, who has in recent months been beating the drums on behalf of the other 99 percent, the president doesn’t look so bad.
Jack White keeps an eye on right-wing politics for The Root.