The Power of Positive Campaigning
Going negative in a multi-candidate race has a tendency to backfire on the attacker.
December 31, 2011 - 12:00 am
The GOP primary process has been a succession of Republican “Not Romney” challengers who have achieved frontrunner status only to fall out of contention. Perhaps the most surprising of these was former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Pundits declared him politically dead after he was pushed out of the speakership in 1998 and news of an affair with an aide emerged. Always a longshot, his hopes of winning the presidency were allegedly dashed earlier this year due to his criticism of Paul Ryan’s plan for reforming entitlements.
How did Gingrich and the previous frontrunners emerge and what has been behind their quick rises and meteoric falls?
The answer can be found in candidate positivity. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Rick Perry each rose on their positive strengths and most of them fell on the basis of decisions to go negative.
Bachmann drew people due to her history of conservative activism as a key tea party leader. Bachmann’s stock began to decline when she went on the attack, criticizing fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty, and then proceeding to go after Perry, Cain, and Gingrich when they enjoyed frontrunner status.
Perry rose on the positive hope that he could translate his record of job growth and limited government in Texas into turning the nation’s economy around. Perry went negative on opponents of in-state tuition for illegal aliens, calling them “heartless,” and got baited by the debate moderators into a reality TV confrontation with Mitt Romney.
Herman Cain enjoyed two separate rises in the polls. The first occurred in early summer and was short-circuited by Cain’s discussion of controversial and divisive issues such as requiring loyalty oaths for Muslim appointees and opposing the building of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. His second rise occurred in September and he continued to ride high in the polls for the longest time of any of the contenders so far despite a barrage of negative media and allegations against him.
Newt Gingrich, up until this point in the campaign, had been the most positive candidate in the race. Gingrich has argued that Republicans should not go after one another, but rather target Obama, and further, that each candidate on the debate stage would make a better president than the incumbent. Time and again, Gingrich has turned down the media when baited to go after other candidates and instead offered firm rebukes to debate moderators.