Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Romney bought the nomination with flood of nasty ads

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
updated 10:24 AM EDT, Thu April 12, 2012
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks to supporters Wednesday in Hartford, Connecticut.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks to supporters Wednesday in Hartford, Connecticut.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile: Mitt Romney outspent his rivals in the GOP race by huge margins
  • She says his relentlessly negative advertising won him the race, but not affection of voters
  • Romney took extreme positions that will brand his image and will not be easily forgotten
  • Brazile: The currency that determines an election should be the candidate's ideas

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, and author of "Cooking with Grease." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- Maybe money can't buy you love, but it buys a nomination.

Ask Mitt Romney. He outspent Rick Santorum 7-1 to win Illinois, outspent Newt Gingrich 4-1 to take Florida, and more than doubled the competition's spending in Wisconsin. In Pennsylvania, the next big state, Romney had bought nearly $2 million in TV ads even though his main rival, Santorum, had yet to spend a dollar in his home state.

Now he won't have to, having suspended his campaign and vindicated Romney's tactics.

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

Santorum's national communications director, Hogan Gidley, said that Romney's tactics "shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. This is Mitt Romney's pattern. He comes in and carpet bombs his opponents in every state with massive ad buys."

But knowing Romney's strategy and doing something about it are two different things, as his Republican opponents have learned.

When Mark Twain said, "We have the best government that money can buy," I suspect he said it with sarcasm, and some disgust. Romney, though, takes it literally.

Of course, over-spending on election campaigns hardly constitutes a breach of propriety, especially these days. Mass media buys are expensive, and niche voter groups can be difficult to reach. But the way Romney, supported by his super PAC allies, has bought the Republican nomination should give us all pause, for three reasons.

First, there's who he bought. I'm not talking just about the delegates; that's obvious. I'm talking about the kind of political base he and his super PACs purchased. Second, there's what he bought -- the overwhelmingly negative ads. And third, there's why he bought what he bought.

With his eye on the general election, Romney wasn't so much buying the new Republican base -- the ultraconservative, once-and-future tea partiers -- as he was bribing them. It was part of a tried-and-true Nixonian strategy: Run to the extreme right in the primaries, then run as fast as you can to the middle in the general election.

Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom infamously compared the strategy to an Etch A Sketch, saying, "You hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes."

But there's a critical difference between Nixon's strategy and the one Romney now owns: Nixon had credibility with the far right and didn't put it at risk when he rushed to the center. The strategy works only if you've at least shared an ideological beer before crashing the extremist party.

Opinion: Romney is stronger than he seems

The Etch A Sketch comment was so telling because it rang so true. It remains to be seen how loyal or enthusiastic the very conservative Republican voters will be when Romney sounds more moderate tones.

Second, we should be concerned about the kind of ads Romney bought. Unable to present conservative bona fides based on his record, Romney's voter outreach was almost exclusively negative. Yes, he won big in Florida, but he did so because a jaw-dropping 99% of his ads were negative.

Before Santorum suspended his campaign, Romney planned to humiliate the former senator with an ad that reminded voters of Santorum's embarrassing loss in 2006. It was to be the blitzkrieg's opening salvo. We'll never know how much influence that ad -- temporarily suspended when Santorum's daughter was hospitalized -- or the even nastier ads that would surely have followed had on Santorum's decision. Judging from the primary debris Romney has left behind, his less-well-funded opponent had enough.

Why does that matter? It matters because life isn't an Etch A Sketch and the currency that determines an election should be a candidate's ideas.

You can't erase your past or run from your record or evade accountability to the truth. Romney's negative, vicious approach to the primary has affected the all-important "swing independents." In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, 64% said Obama "seems more friendly and likeable" than Romney. Only 26% felt the other way. And 55% found Obama more inspiring than Romney; 29% had the opposite view.

Romney should recognize that running for president is more like a tattoo than an Etch A Sketch: The image you create will stick on you, and you can't just shake it off.

This brings us to the third point: Why did Romney buy the election by carpet-bombing his opponents with negative ads and pretending for the first time in his political life to be "severely conservative"? The hypocrisy -- and distortions of the truth -- are so blatant, so obvious, that not only Democrats, but even Romney's Republican opponents are astounded at the audacity, and that he gets away with it.

Romney might have bought the nomination, but voters may well make him pay for the way he did it. Whether they buy his expensive, negative and opportunistic transformation in the fall will be a test of more than just the candidate -- it will be a test of our democracy.

Follow us on Twitter: @CNNOpinion

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT