Negative campaign ads bad for GOP morale

By Daniel Gaitan

Published: Monday, February 27, 2012

Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012

GOP debate

AP Photo

Republican presidential candidates, from left, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich share the stage during a Republican presidential debate Feb. 22, 2012, in Mesa, Ariz.

Mitt Romney continues to be consistently inconsistent and Ron Paul continues to push his libertarian agenda, but what might be hurting GOP candidates the most is their middle-school back-and-forth in campaign ads. From Paul's ad calling Rick Santorum a "fake fiscal conservative" to Santorum's ad depicting Romney as Rambo, the growth of negative advertising is hurting the Republican brand and will eventually serve as a detriment to the presidential Republican nominee, whoever that may be.

In the post-Citizens United world, PACs can now spend millions and millions of dollars in support of candidates. The landmark case regards corporate and individual spending as free speech. There is no limit. The only caveat is that PACs cannot work with a politician or party explicitly. According to The Washington Post's T.W. Farnam, "super PACs can accept corporate money and personal checks above the $2,500 limit on donations to campaigns, but they are prohibited from coordinating ads with the campaigns they are trying to help." Farnam believes that because candidates cannot work directly with PACs, negative ads result from them.

For example, the PAC supporting Romney devastated Newt Gingrich's campaign after his momentary surge. One ad by Restore Our Future involved an airline terminal and luggage. "Know what makes Barack Obama happy? Newt Gringrich's baggage," the ad states. An omnipresent female voice narrates.

Romney has taken a hit from Rick Santorum and Gingrich. Gingrich has released an ad stating, "Mitt Romney will say anything to win. And just like John Kerry … he speaks French too." French music was played in the background. This came after Gingrich promised to stay positive for the sake of the party.

Last month Gingrich was justifying his negative campaigning. "First of all, I think that staying positive through Iowa, through $3.5 million of negative attacks, proved you either have to unilaterally disarm and leave the race or you have to at least bring up your competitor's record," Gingrich said, during the South Carolina Fox News/Wall Street Journal debate.

Overall enthusiasm in the Republican electorate is meek. According to Talking Points Memo which interviewed Dr. Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, Miringoff believes that although there is still some an anti-Obama sentiment, no leading Republican candidate has been able to harness that energy. "Romney has not provided that energy to the GOP," he said.

Even the conservative media seems divided over Republicans. Matt Drudge of the incredibly successful Drudge Report has been supportive of Romney, and recently helped break a story about Santorum's past comments regarding Satan and Protestantism in shambles. He used a black and white picture of Catholic Santorum with the headline "Santorum's Satan Warning." Santorum called the "report" a joke.

It is unclear if the dislike of President Obama runs deep enough for a general election rally behind the eventual nominee. If not, it won't matter who the nominee is. A fractured party is never good come election day.

If the GOP front runners want a chance at sustaining long term voter appeal, they're all going to need to learn how to play nicely.

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