If you asked me even a couple of weeks ago whether the Republican Party could heal from the wounds of this election cycle in time to unite against Obama, I would have said “Yes.”
I’m not so sure anymore. After the South Carolina primary the Republican establishment, and media supporters like Matt Drudge, launched Scorched Earth II on Newt, while pro-Romney pundits like Ann Coulter heaped scorn on the conservative and Tea Party voters who sided with Newt.
It may just be “not-beanbag” to the Romney campaign and its supporters, but people hear them loud and clear.
Two lines of attack have exposed a schism between the Republican political haves and have nots which will not easily heal: The attempt to rewrite the history of the Reagan revolution and the embrace of Nancy Pelosi’s partisan ethics attack and blackmail.
As to Reagan, I have documented many times here how the story line espoused by the Romney campaign and its supporters was false. Newt was an important part of the Reagan revolution, and was not anti-Reagan as various pro-Romney pundits claimed.
There was a backlash on Thursday and Friday among talk radio hosts and a variety of people who were in a first hand position to observe Newt’s interaction with Reagan, culminating in Sarah Palin’s Facebook post on Friday afternoon denouncing the neo-Stalinist attempt to rewrite history.
That the attack on Newt’s Reagan bona fides came from someone who openly ran against Reaganism and against the conservative agenda in 1994 was an irony lost only on the pro-Romney Republican establishment and media.
Romney’s attacks on Newt’s late 1990s ethics charge also were distinctly from the left, echoing the talking points of anti-conservative Democrats like Nancy Pelosi. It took people like Byron York and Mark Levin to expose the truth that the charges were part of a Democratic Party vendetta, and that substantively Newt did nothing wrong and was vindicated.
But mostly, the Republican establishment and conservative media who howled with outrage when Newt and Rick Perry were seen (wrongly in my view ) as attacking Romney “from the left” were silent, even as the Romney camp openly embraced Nancy Pelosi’s blackmail and ran ads featuring Pelosi threatening to reveal secret information about Newt after Pelosi already had backed away from the threat.
The embrace of Nancy Pelosi by the Romney campaign should have met with an avalanche of criticism from the Republican establishment, but almost nothing was said.
Romney is back at it in Florida, with a last minute and massive ad buy running a clip of Tom Brokaw from 1997 about Newt’s plea to a single ethics charge. Romney not only attacked Newt again from the left in the spirit of Pelosi, but did so using a mainstream news media figure from a network notoriously hostile to conservatives. Yet again, near silence from the Republican establishment and conservative media.
As Palin pointed out, this no longer is about Romney and Newt. It’s a schism between the Republican political haves and have nots, with the have nots furious at the double standard applied to their candidate by the political haves.
The schism need not have occurred. It entirely is an outgrowth of the way in which the Romney campaign and Republican political and media establishments have conducted themselves.
Newt rose in the polls in the fall on a positive message of not attacking fellow Republicans. Newt’s great moments in fall debates were refusing to engage when debate moderators sought to pit candidate against candidate. The message of a united front against Obama and a bright conservative future resonated with the Republican electorate like nothing else.
Romney had no positive message to sell or at least was not good at selling it, so in Iowa Romney, his SuperPAC, and the Republican political and media establishment launched Scorched Earth I on Newt, what David Limbaugh appropriately called “relentless, unmeasured scorched-earth savagery.”
The attacks on Newt were highly personal and deliberately demeaning, eiptomized by National Review’s notorious “Marvin the Martian” issue.
Even then, Newt tried to stay positive in Iowa until the last few days, and Newt paid the electoral price.
Ever since then, it has been downhill, with Newt launching negative ads in South Carolina and Florida and Romney unloading with far greater resources. Some of the ads run by or for Newt have been as negative as those run by or for Romney, if only in smaller doses. The rhetoric has escalated on both sides.
But make no mistake about it, the reason the Republican campaign has turned so nasty and so divisive is because the Romney campaign and its supporters decided in Iowa to win at any price, a theme which continues to this day even if it means embracing Nancy Pelosi and distorting the history of the Reagan revolution.
This will not be put back together easily. The smugness and condescension are salt on open wounds.
Romney may win his battles in Florida and beyond, a shallow vindication of his negative political strategy, but it has weakened the fall campaign against Obama. Time heals all wounds, supposedly, but not necessarily in a matter of a few months.
In pulling apart fault lines which are not easily put back together because they embody an emotional fissure in the Republican Party, Romney may win his battles, but he is losing our war.
Update: The NY Times just published a very revealing article regarding Romney’s Florida strategy, The Calculations That Led Romney to the Warpath. (added) The Times confirms what everyone suspected, the Romney campaign fed material (which we now know to have false and misleading) to Drudge in a plan to attack Newt which was approved by Romney:
A team of some of the most fearsome researchers in the business, led by Mr. Romney’s campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, spent days dispensing negative information about Mr. Gingrich, much of it finding its way to the influential Drudge Report, which often serves as a guide for conservative talk radio and television assignment editors and to which Mr. Rhoades has close ties.
The effort hit a peak by Thursday, when the site was virtually taken over by headlines assailing Mr. Gingrich, whose advisers said they eventually gave up on trying to persuade the Drudge staff to spare them, acknowledging, in the words of one aide, that “very little can be done.” ….
Mr. Romney was still in South Carolina when the team, led by Mr. Rhoades, presented the plan to him. “He was on the road, and there was a call with him on Sunday morning where we laid out all the different pieces of what was going on,” Mr. Schriefer said. “He asked questions, but it wasn’t a particularly long call; it was very calm, sort of ‘O.K., guys, let’s go win in Florida.’ ”
And, Jennifer Rubin is a WaPo blogger closely associated with the Romney campaign (they even quote her calling Newt a “well of sleaze” in a mailer). Here is her tweet tonight upon hearing that Herman Cain was endorsing Newt, exuding the type of demeaning attitude which unfortunately typifies so much of the pro-Romney punditry. That the Romney campaign embraces such people is one of the reasons a large segment of the Republican electorate is moving to a position they never thought possible: