Big business cheered the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened the legal door to wealthy businessmen bankrolling super PACs in the 2012 presidential election.
But the massive flow of cash into the Super PACs has financed a barrage of negative ads that has bloodied Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney and driven up the negatives on the entire GOP field.
A Wall Street Journal analysis published Wednesday showed that the outside political action committees spent three times more than the candidates’ campaigns in the two weeks before Super Tuesday.
The Super PACs have created such a distortion of the political marketplace that a candidate doesn’t have to drop out of the presidential race even if he isn’t attracting much voter support.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who only mustered a win in his home state of Georgia on Tuesday, is pressing on with his campaign. Gingrich can ignore the will of the voters as long as his Super PAC has enough money to pay for his TV advertising.
While Gingrich legally can’t coordinate with the pro-Gingrich Super PAC, it was businessman Sheldon Adelson’s $11 million donation that helped catapult Gingrich to a win in South Carolina in January.
Yet this largesse in advertising, financed by the Super PACs, has severely weakened the Republican field.
On Feb. 23, Gallup released a poll showing that Democratic President Obama had a favorable rating of 50 percent among Americans surveyed.
In comparison, the GOP presidential candidates had the following favorable ratings: Romney, 39 percent; Ron Paul, 39 percent; Rick Santorum, 38 percent; and Gingrich, 26 percent.
Gallup also did polling in mid- to late February in presidential years, which showed Republican candidates fared much better at this stage of the contests. In February 2008, John McCain had a favorable rating of 56 percent among American voters. George W. Bush was at a 58 percent favorable rating in 2000, while Bob Dole was at 49 percent in 1996.
Two years ago, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 in a high profile case that the federal government shouldn’t be regulating political spending by corporations because the justices viewed it as akin to free speech. In response, many conservatives may have relished the opportunity to greatly flood the campaign zone with more cash.
Yet the outcome of the 2012 presidential election may show that battering the candidates over several months in negative TV ads during primary season simply served to emasculate the GOP nominee.
If Romney is the nominee, he could end up being damaged goods by the time he faces Obama in the general election.
The national Republican Party, borrowing a page from the Democratic playbook, established rules that required most state parties to use “proportional representation” in awarding delegates, instead of going with a “winner-take-all” approach.
Following Super Tuesday, Romney had 415 of the 1,144 delegates needed to lock up the nomination. Meanwhile, Santorum has 176 delegates, Gingrich has 105 and Paul has 47.
Romney won a crucial and close victory in Ohio Tuesday, just as he had done in his home state of Michigan last week. But Romney and Santorum split up the delegates in those important states, which means the fractured party contest will continue.
Not so long ago, many Republican activists assumed they would easily oust Barack Obama from the White House. But endless GOP debates, an avalanche of negative TV ads, and a longer-than-normal GOP nominating contest have allowed Republican candidates to suffer serious wounds inflicted by fellow Republicans.
The presidential election is eight months away, which can seem like an eternity in politics. Yet conservative columnist George Will recently wrote that Republicans should focus on winning the U.S. House and Senate, because he thinks it’s unlikely that Romney or Santorum can win the general election.
In describing Romney and Santorum, Will wrote, “Neither has demonstrated, or seems likely to develop, an aptitude for energizing a national coalition that translates into 270 electoral votes.”
Republicans have veered badly off course from their glory days of the Reagan Revolution.
Fedor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.