When Newt Gingrich opened up a sizable lead in Iowa last month, he was promptly broadsided by a torrent of negative Super PAC advertisements that now threaten to sink his once-promising campaign.
The amount of campaign advertising will likely set a record this election cycle, as Super PACs, which raise money from corporations, unions and individuals, spend the unlimited amounts of money they’re now permitted to raise.
The plurality of the funds spent in the GOP presidential primary have targeted Gingrich, whose surprising rise in the polls far surpassed the brief booms by other second-tier candidates, such as Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain.
Since then, Iowa voters have been repeatedly reminded by the Super PACs of Gingrich’s ties to Freddie Mac, his divorces and his long record in Washington.
The impact is clear: With the Iowa caucus only four days away, Gingrich has fallen into the second tier of candidates and currently sits in fifth place, according to an NBC-Marist poll released Friday.
The difficult campaign might have been reflected in Gingrich’s tears at a Friday campaign event. Asked to talk about a time his mother affected him, Gingrich recounted how he came to get more involved in long-term healthcare policy and Alzheimer’s through his mother, whom he said had bipolar disease and depression.
“You’ll get me all teary-eyed — Callista will tell you, I get teary-eyed every time we sing Christmas carols,” Gingrich said, referring to his wife, as he fought back tears. “My mother sang in the choir and loved singing in the choir.”
On the campaign trail, Gingrich likes to refer to himself as an historian, and is keen on contextualizing his experiences in dramatic historical settings.
But the former House Speaker doesn’t need to look too far back to find historical context for what plagues him: Gingrich was a vocal supporter of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in favor of Citizens United against the Federal Election Commission that opened the door for the unlimited spending the Super PACs that back his rivals are now using against him.
With his familiar grandiloquent flair, Gingrich at the time called the Supreme Court ruling “one of the most sophisticated, methodological and serious strategies I’ve seen in my years in looking at government.”
“We need to recognize the effect of virtually all efforts to limit political speech, which I believe are unconstitutional,” Gingrich said. “You would have a much freer and healthier system if you say any American can give any amount of after-tax income as long as they report it every night on the Internet so that everybody else can determine who is supporting who.”
The Restore Our Future (ROF) PAC reports its numbers on the Internet, and it supports Mitt Romney. ROF has spent more than $4 million this cycle in ads against Gingrich, and now seems as if it’s just piling on him: It spent more than $1.2 million this week alone, even though Gingrich no longer poses the threat he once did.
Rather than combating this onslaught, Gingrich cited “Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment” of never speaking ill of another Republican, and thereby made himself the control group in an experiment on the effectiveness of negative campaign advertising.
Even the Gingrich-backed Super PAC, Winning the Future (WTF), has complied with his pledge to run a positive campaign. WTF has spent all of its modest $500,000 in ads supporting the former House Speaker, rather than in ads attacking others.
Last week, Gingrich said if WTF “runs a single negative ad, I will disown the PAC and discourage anybody giving them a penny,” and he called on Romney to remove his PAC’s negative ads.
But Super PACs are not allowed to coordinate with the campaigns, and Romney responded as such.
“The law says that my campaign and I cannot in any way coordinate with the activities of the Super PAC,” Romney said. “Under federal law, that’s something we can’t do. So the Supreme Court has laid out what the rules are.”
At the time, Gingrich called Romney’s defense “palpably misleading, clearly false and politics in its worst form,” but there are signs that he might have learned his lesson and is changing his tune.
This week the Strong America Now PAC, organized to support Gingrich, sent out a mailer identifying Romney as “the second most dangerous man in America.”
Gingrich responded that he would discourage that kind of campaigning and called it “wrong,” but part of his response sounded familiar.
“I don’t control them,” he said.