By Dick Morris - 02/02/12 12:58 AM EST
Here’s the reason Mitt Romney won in Florida: Women turned against Newt. In the primary Tuesday, Romney carried men by only 5 points, according to the Fox News exit poll, while he won women 52 percent to 28 percent — a 24-point margin!
Did women turn against Gingrich because of his personal baggage or the interview with his second ex-wife? Did they just dislike his aggressiveness or feel that he couldn’t win? We don’t know. But what we do know is that a gender gap that was not much in evidence in South Carolina surfaced with a vengeance one week later in Florida.
As the Democratic Party vote in any national election is heavily skewed toward women, Romney’s ability to attract their votes and Newt’s inability loom large in any calculation of their chances of victory against Obama. Romney can fight the president effectively for the female vote, while it is obvious that Newt cannot.
In any event, the Florida result does not end the process. It still has a ways to go. Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul are fully entitled to pursue their candidacies — just as Mike Huckabee did in 2008. But it is important that there be a ceasefire among the campaigns. Now that we have aired the accusations and charges in Florida, it is unnecessary and potentially self-destructive to repeat them in the remaining states.
Newt should have gotten the message that his negatives only backfired and made him look Nixonian. They jammed his ability to get out his positive points and share his bold and clear vision of America’s future with the voters. Both he and Romney need to cut it out! It’s time for the 11th Commandment to prevail. (Popularized by Ronald Reagan, it goes: “Thou shalt not attack a fellow Republican.”)
The campaign thus far has strengthened the eventual nominee. Romney was required to release his tax returns — his waffling on this question cost him South Carolina. But he did put them out there, and survived the scrutiny. Now it is old news. We have heard all about the job losses among some of the clients of Bain Capital. We’ve seen an endless exposition of Romney’s flip-flops. Now the ammo is spent, its charge used up. The nominee in November will not face fresh charges, only old ones that have lost their punch.
While the primary and caucus process grinds on until one candidate gets a majority of the delegates, it is important that each day’s headlines do not provide new grist for Obama’s mill. After his 2008 defeat in Florida, Huckabee — who never waged a negative campaign in the first place — made sure never to attack John McCainJohn McCainFox News bests major networks in convention ratings Meghan McCain: ‘I no longer recognize my party’ Why a bill about catfish will show whether Ryan's serious about regulatory reform MORE, and the Arizona senator returned the favor on his way to the nomination. Now it’s time for Romney, Gingrich, Santorum and Paul to absorb the lesson and start to pull their punches.
Will they do it? Not unless we make them.
Republicans of all stripes and in all states need to get in touch with the campaigns with one message: Cut it out! No more negatives! Save your fire for Obama. Only if there is a real grassroots demand for an end to negative campaigning will the internecine sniping come to an end. Republicans must not form a firing squad in a circle!
We’ve all got a great task before us: We have to save what is left of this country from another Obama term in office. We won’t accomplish that by spilling the blood of our fellow Republicans.
Morris, a former adviser to then-Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Clinton, is the author of “Outrage,” “Fleeced,” “Catastrophe” and “2010: Take Back America — A Battle Plan.” To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, or to order a signed, advanced copy of their latest book, “Revolt! How to Defeat Obama and Repeal His Socialist Programs,” go to dickmorris.com.