Newt Gingrich is finally breaking his pledge to run a positive campaign -- what took him so long? In December, Gingrich not only promised to run a "respectful and constructive" campaign, he said he'd fire staffers who went negative and "publicly disown" super PACs who ran attack ads. That lasted 28 days. After whining about all the negative attacks he's suffered, Gingrich told ABC News' Jonathan Karl Monday that he'll start attacking Mitt Romney every day after the Iowa caucuses: "Everything we say will have Romney’s quote, Romney’s videotape, Romney’s record; it’ll all be based explicitly on Romney." Gingrich's decision comes the very same day that Time's Joe Klein mourns the "coarsening of a system that is already too coarse." But there's nothing wrong with negative campaigning. What's the point of talking about policy proposals if you can't talk about the ones that suck?
"I saw a very effective anti-Ron Paul ad on the air last night, but I don’t know who was responsible for it," Klein writes. "It was about gay marriage, which Paul tolerates because he doesn’t believe the state should involve itself in marriage." Who aired this terrible (and accurate) ad? A tricky Google search of "ron paul gay marriage ad iowa" reveals it was the National Organization for Marriage. NOM has been around since 2007, and fought to ban same sex marriage in California four years ago.
Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee has set up its rapid response center in Des Moines, CNN's Gabrielle Schwartz reports, because Democrats don't think Republicans have been attacking Romney hard enough. Klein argues it's never been so bad:
Negative ads have been more effective and brutal this time because no one has to get up there at the end and say, “I’m Mitt Romney and I approved this message.”
That line came in for a fair amount of mockery when the federal government began to require it a few cycles ago. But it worked. It became harder to for a candidate to have an ad accusing an opponent of being a mother-raper if he or she had to appear at the end and say, “I approve this message.”
More brutal this time? Really? More brutal than the "swift boating" of John Kerry almost eight years ago? More brutal than George H.W. Bush's Willie Horton ad? More brutal than Jesse Helms' "Hands" ad, in which a white applicant is rejected for a job because "they had to give it to a minority"? Worse than anything Jesse Helms ever did, like when he was a campaign staffer in 1950 and doctored a photo of his boss's opponents' wife so it looked like she danced with a black guy? Talking about what Ron Paul thinks about gay marriage seems pretty nice compared to this:
And even nicer compared how the attack ads of our Founding Fathers look when translated into YouTube, as Reason's pointed out in 2010. "John Adams is a blind, glad, crippled, toothless man who wants to start a war with France."
Gay marriage is a big deal to Iowa voters -- as Klein writes, support it is "somewhat akin to supporting human sacrifice among the Christian Conservatives out here." So why is it wrong to remind those voters that one of the most frontrunners disagrees with them on one of their most important issues? That's what Gingrich is promising to do, too. He told ABC that Romney "said he was a moderate in Massachusetts when he ran for governor, I'm a conservative." That's actually true! Romney said on camera he is a progressive. Gingrich continued, "He said he wasn't for Reagan, I was for Reagan." That is also true! Romney said in 1994, "I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush." Ronald Reagan is a deity among conservative voters. Nothing wrong with pointing out their potential candidates' heresies. If Gingrich had spent the last month hammering Mitt Romney for the reason voters want a Not Mitt Romney in the first place -- health care -- maybe he wouldn't have to admit he's going to lose Tuesday.