The Republican Party Surveys the Wreckage of the Florida Primary

The Republican Party fears it might have accidentally destroyed its village in order to save it. 

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The Republican Party fears it might have accidentally destroyed its village in order to save it. Just after Mitt Romney gave his victory speech in Florida Tuesday night, Sarah Palin -- who fought with the McCain campaign in 2008 because she wanted to be meaner -- was on Fox News fretting that the $17 million spent on negative ads in the state had hurt Republicans for the general election. "From establishment pillars to Tea Party leaders, the emerging consensus is that the vituperative attacks in Florida went beyond the traditional back and forth, cresting with Gingrich’s robocall asserting that Romney had vetoed legislation denying Holocaust victims kosher food," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes. Romney "wanted to run as a pragmatic businessman looking out for the middle class, but he enters the general election painted, not unfairly, as a very rich man looking to preserve the policies that have benefitted him, often unfairly," New York's Jonathan Chait writes. And even though Romney survived Gingrich's attacks on his business record, conservatives worry he was so busy gloating over killing his opponent he forgot to offer any ideas.

"The Florida Republican primary race was a thing of beauty only if you like the Ultimate Fighting Championship on cable," a Wall Street Journal editorial complains Wednesday. (And yet, it seems to buy in to the image Gingrich painted of Romney just a little bit:. "When Mitt Romney outduels you as the man with the common touch, you have a larger problem than negative TV ads.") The fighting didn't motivate people to go to the polls, the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol notes, as turnout was down by 12 percent from 2008. "Not a good sign for the GOP in this key swing state, especially following a flat GOP turnout in Iowa and only a slight uptick in New Hampshire (also swing states)." The Journal's William McGurn says:

Those of us who believed that a primary fight would toughen Mr. Romney up have little to show for it. Far from sharpening his proposals to reach out to a GOP electorate hungry for a candidate with a bold conservative agenda, Mr. Romney has limited his new toughness to increasingly negative attacks on Mr. Gingrich's character. It's beginning to make what we all assumed was a weakness look much more like arrogance.

Romney didn't steal any of the Not Romneys' ideas, McGurn says. Likewise, The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes writes that Romney hasn't offered a big idea as the justification for his candidacy, just his own awesomeness: "As things stand, his overriding issue is himself. He’ll revive the economy. Why? Because he says he will. That won’t cut against Obama." The Journal editorial makes that complaint, too:

Successful U.S. candidates for the White House have understood that their mission is larger than their own ambition. It's about a cause, about "we" not "I." If Mr. Romney really wants to unite his party and rally a new American majority, he needs a cause bigger than his business biography.

But right now, it's Gingrich who's promising to talk about ideas all February, while a Romney aide told Politico they're focused on “keeping the boot on [Newt's] neck."
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