The latest poll out of Iowa shows Ron Paul hanging on to a tenuous lead, with Mitt Romney close behind and Newt Gingrich further back. This has led to every candidate in the race, many of whom still have an opportunity for a good showing in Iowa, training their guns on Paul, shifting the negative advertising away from Gingrich and toward the Texas Congressman in the race’s final days.
Newt Gingrich said Mr. Paul, of Texas, was a “protest” candidate, and that he could not vote for the congressman if he won the party’s nomination. In a television interview, Mr. Gingrich, the former House speaker, declared that Mr. Paul’s “views are totally outside the mainstream of virtually every decent American.”
Rick Santorum warned conservative voters to carefully study Mr. Paul’s record, telling a crowd here: “Think about having a guy running for president who is going to be on the left of Barack Obama on national security.”
I’m not sure how well this will work, because Paul is winning Iowa, according to the PPP poll, on the strength of Democrats and independents who will participate in the caucuses by changing their registration. Romney leads Paul among Republicans by 22-20, but Paul leads 39-12 among the 24% self-identifying as Democrats or indies. As PPP writes, “The independent/young voter combo worked for Barack Obama in securing an unexpectedly large victory on the Democratic side in 2008 and it may be Paul’s winning equation in 2012.”
But I don’t want to focus on that – we have an Elections bureau for poll talk – and shift instead to how the air war against Paul has taken shape. Much like the negative advertising against Gingrich, it has come almost entirely from independent, SuperPAC ad spending, not from the campaigns themselves, which get to burnish their image with positive spots. Chris Cillizza has a breakdown of this:
According to the Post’s handy “Mad Money” campaign ad tracker, the ad war between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich has been a veritable love fest. Every ad run by Gingrich has been positive, and 87 percent of Romney’s ads have been positive.
“I think the people of Iowa have a great opportunity in the caucus to send a signal to the country that negative ads written by dishonest consultants on behalf of irresponsible candidates don’t deserve getting votes,” Gingrich told CNN on Tuesday, pledging to stay 100 percent positive.
Ask the voters of Iowa what they think of this positive campaign, though, and you’ll probably elicit laughs. In fact, a deluge of negative ads from outside groups — otherwise known as super PACs — continues to flood their airwaves. The ads just aren’t run or approved by the candidates themselves […]
In fact, while Romney and Gingrich have run almost all positive ads, negative ads still outnumber positive ones by a two-to-one margin overall in the GOP presidential race.
Welcome to campaigning in the age of Citizens United. The undisclosed corporate money goes to mowing down your opponents, and you get to run the gauzy spots featuring your family running around in a field. You have plausible deniability on the attack ads, and you can moralize about how you’re “staying positive and focusing on the future.”
The biggest consequence of this is the total loss in transparency and accountability. We know who funds the candidates themselves; they are required to report reams of campaign finance data. We have no idea who funds the SuperPACs, and we probably never will. What’s more, we cannot hold the candidate accountable for the sleazy negative ads. The best you can get is for the candidate to “disavow” them, and maybe nod at “requesting” that they be taken off the air.
But that won’t happen because negative ads really work. They beat down Newt Gingrich and now they’re poised to take out Ron Paul. What’s more, the coordination on these ads is quite obvious, despite the denials. Most of the people running the top SuperPACs are former – in some cases current – aides to the candidates themselves.
This has always been a feature of US campaigns, but in Iowa, at the vanguard of the 2012 cycle, it has become far more widespread. It signals a setback for democracy.