10 lessons, mostly unhealthy, learned from the Florida GOP primary.
1. Money matters. If you outspend your opponent dramatically, you can beat them.
Romney outspent Gingrich dramatically in Florida and had a deep campaign organization here while Gingrich ran a much looser organization based on momentum. That gave Romney a base of support in Florida that he bolstered by outspending Gingrich by about a 4-to-1 margin.
That doesn't even address the ratio of Romney's Super PAC spend to the spend of Gingrich's Super PAC. That was beyond disproportional in Florida. It's almost as if Florida was Romney's firewall as far as he and his PAC were concerned.
The lesson: if you outspend your opponent by a big enough margin, you can ensure a win.
2. Super PACs matter. As a corollary to #1, Super PACs have been freed up this cycle to spend, spend, spend. Why they matter - in addition to the money mattering - is because they can do the dirty work of the candidates. Leveraging the modus operendi of the Obama 2008 model, the candidate can stay positive while the PAC does the dirty attacking.
The lesson: You need powerful, Super PACs in your corner or you are simply out-gunned.
3. Stay positive. Seemingly in contrast to some of #2, the candidate to win has to stay positive. Newt Gingrich just seemed dour in Florida. He was off his game and he didn't even realize it because Romney and his team got him into a game of tit for tat in negativity. Gingrich had less room to play in the personal negatives than did Romney and the floor clearly fell out on him. Mitt Romney would do himself a service to realize that the game he is playing will eventually bite him if he keeps it up for too long. As for Gingrich - he has to stay on message about jobs, recovery etc. because the politics of negativity clearly did not, and will not, serve him well. He'd better learn that lesson fast. Whomever the nominee turns out to be better learn it before they face Obama. Going negative is a poison pill. It may help you win now, but it tarnishes your brand versus Obama in the long run.
The lesson: A positive message beats a negative message almost every time. You can leave the negativity to others to do for you.
4. Whether Newt was just off his game or was saving his efforts in a state he felt he couldn't win, he seemed unenergetic, and under-prepared. Debates matter in this cycle because there are so many of them. They provide a less-filtered view of the candidates without the spin of advertising. You'd better look sharp, you'd better be sharp and you'd better be highly prepared. Newt seemed caught off guard a number of times and he could have come back with some quality retorts to Romney. He didn't and he paid the price.
The lesson: There's no time to coast in a debate or a campaign. Coasting leads to death.
5. Pandering has limits. In a cycle where conservatives are concerned about debt, jobs and the economy, not all voters, not all states will respond to platitudes designed to feed their existing desires. The space program stuff Gingrich threw out there in Florida did not help him. At least it did not help him enough. In the bigger picture it comes across as pandering.
The lesson: Not everyone likes pork. Leave that to those pandering to the far left.
6. This is sadly now, a two man race. Some have not yet realized that and are staying in the race to the advantage of Romney. Either Santorum or Gingrich has to get out (not Paul, because he won't get out) and the voters need to be consolidated behind one of them quickly or else the race will be Romney's. The situation is not ideal, and the candidates are all flawed but the if voters want a choice
The lesson: The only way Romney can be beaten is if the opposition consolidates against him. Best case with Gingrich and Santorum both still in, is a brokered convention. But that's the Best case. More likely is a slow and painful death for both candidacies.
7. Despite a better voter turnout in South Carolina, voter turnout in the GOP primaries is much less than stellar.
The lesson: Voter turnout in the GOP primaries is down. Enthusiasm may be down because of the candidate choices, but that doesn't mean Republican voters won't turn out to defeat Obama in the fall. They will. They just won't be excited about it.
8. The volume of ads in Florida proves more than just money matters - it proves that repetition works. But it goes deeper than that. Candidates need a simple message that connects with voters. Talking about 50 different things in a week diffuses the message, and the points don't get absorbed by voters. Some voters in Idaho won't have watched any of the South Carolina debates or Florida debates. They'll need to hear them fresh on their own when the time comes. There's no need to be cute, creative and diverse. The problems facing the country are obvious, the proposed solutions need to sink in. That takes time, and repetition. I bet you still remember 9-9-9, right?
The lesson: Repetition matters. Stay focused. Stay on message. None of this one-new-idea-per-minute will win voters over.
9. Conservative principles dictate that in a free market, demand will be met by supply. Does that apply to quality, conservative presidential candidates? Um, no. The nominees who are conservative are flawed. The plastic perfect-looking candidates (Romney and Hunstman) are decidedly not conservative. The establishment is clearly behind Romney. The question is 'why?'. Clearly conservatives are not. But still the establishment keeps pushing Romney as the only choice worth choosing. As far as Florida goes, the push seems to be working.
The lesson: Democrats who swooned over Obama don't have a monopoly on gullibility.
10. Mitt Romney seems to have gone off the rails. He won big and it seems to have gone to his head. Does he now think he can say anything?
What hubris. Or just oops. Can he be the nominee now? His words just inspired Obama's base and his get out the vote effort just got easier. You won Florida, not the presidency.
The lesson: Winning a battle is not the same as winning the war. Stay humble - if you can.