A few days before the January 31 Florida Republican primary, a number of Mitt Romney’s top aides took to the pages of the New York Times to brag about how they had destroyed Newt Gingrich. The former House Speaker had beaten Romney badly just a few days earlier in South Carolina; a loss in Florida might have unalterably changed the GOP race. So the Times reported that “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.”
That was an understatement. Team Romney not only dropped oppo research on Gingrich; before it was all over, Romney and his SuperPAC allies spent about $15 million on ads in Florida, three times what Gingrich and his supporters spent. And all — literally all — of it was on negative advertising. “The only positive Romney ad aired over the past week was single Spanish-language radio ad,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl reported when it was over. Romney’s assault completely dominated the airwaves; 68 percent of all ads aired in Florida were Romney attacks on Gingrich. It worked; Romney won Florida handily.
No matter who they supported, many Republicans felt uneasy as they watched the intra-party war unfold. Many — voters and insiders alike — remarked that when the general election campaign came around, Romney had better attack Barack Obama with the same ferocity he attacked Gingrich. (And, at other times in the primary season, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum.) Otherwise, it would look like Romney took more relish in attacking fellow Republicans than in taking on Obama. Romney had won the Republican nomination in significant part by operating a death star — a machine that could rain down holy hell on opponents, if that’s what winning required. He had better give the same treatment to Obama.