Big Money and Negative Ads Are Crushing Gingrich in Iowa

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Dec. 31 2011 9:07 PM

Mr. Positivity

Newt Gingrich complains that big money and negative ads are crushing him in Iowa. He has a point.

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Newt Gingrich on the campaign trail in Atlantic, Iowa

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

ATLANTIC, Iowa – Newt Gingrich invents analogies almost as often as he writes books. On this leg of his Jobs and Growth bus tour, he was comparing Barack Obama’s economic policies to an avian breakfast treat.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

“It’s as though we’ve tried to make hard boiled eggs by putting them in the freezer,” he told a packed, eager room at Tish’s Restaurant, a classy joint in Council Bluffs. (Try the fried cauliflower.) “Now, you can get a hard egg by putting it in the freezer long enough, but it’s not what you want. I think Obama is in relation to jobs as putting an egg in the freezer is to getting a hard-boiled egg.”

It’s a nice analogy. But you could just as easily apply it to Newt 2012, and the weirdly positive campaign he’s now running. One month ago, the candidate cited the polls showing him up in Iowa, up everywhere except New Hampshire, and told ABC News he was “going to be the nominee.”

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“I don’t object if people want to attack me,” he told Jake Tapper. “That’s their right.”

Now he’s trailing, in Iowa and nationally. We know why. He’s been bludgeoned by negative TV ads and negative mail. According to the obscure-until-yesterday Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, 45 percent of all TV ads in Iowa have been anti-Gingrich.

Nobody doubts this figure, least of all Gingrich. On Friday and Saturday, stumping in central and western Iowa, he spoke often about the negative campaign against him. Here in Atlantic, he used the “45 percent” number, telling us he “read it in USA Today.” At other events, he opted to scold Mitt Romney and anyone who would let a “super PAC,” with mysterious and unlimited funds, tear a man down. Gingrich says he will not run attack ads, despite the challenges he’s facing. Let all those other guys make their hard boiled eggs with heat, because he’s going to the freezer.

“I propose a simple test, to determine whether or not something is a negative ad,” he said in Council Bluffs. “Candidates ought to make grandchildren watch the ads they’re running. If they’re not proud of those ads, they shouldn’t run them.”

Whenever Gingrich said this, his crowds—all of them large, if not Romney-huge—cheered as though the candidate had announced some miracle cure for tuberculosis. It was unfair, what was happening to their candidate. It was sleazy.

“I just hate it, and there’s so much of it,” sighed Sarah Hoffman, after Gingrich spoke at a restaurant in Shenandoah, Iowa. “Anytime they do anything negative, I just turn it off.”

“I think there ought to be a review panel, or something like that,” said Kelly King, waiting for a chance to shake Gingrich’s hand in Council Bluffs. “You shouldn’t be allowed to run these things that are totally negative and wrong.”

There are a couple of problems with these complaints. One: Negative ads are part of any campaign, and rightly so, because candidates don’t dish ugly (and sometimes revealing) information about themselves. Two: Conservatives derided campaign finance reform in the 1990s, and cheered the Citizens United decision that paved the way for this year’s ad onslaught. For them to complain about campaign spending and secret money funding attacks just isn’t … consistent.

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