The Ratio 65:1
Not only was the Florida Primary one of the most negative ones in history it was also a blow-out for Mitt Romney in terms of how many ads played. Amazingly 92% of the ads shown were negative and Mitt out-aired Newt 65:1. Those are crushing numbers in terms of saturation of negative messages. In terms of dollars it is estimated 15MM for Romney vs. about 5 for Newt. Mitt spent almost 75% of a years' salary on Florida! Update: Nate Silver finds the "ad advantage" to only circumstantial!
The Game Plan
This article does a good job of laying it out: Team Mitt did everything right (more aggressive debates, more negative ads) and Newt did everything wrong (failed two debates, didn't present himself as especially controlled). Having a killer game plan and executing it expertly goes a long way towards winning.
The demographic of Florida is a good deal different than that of South Carolina. Hispanics are a very different group than black Republicans. The evangelical foot-print is smaller here too in terms of percentage power it wields. Gingrich's appeal against a North Eastern governor was probably not as pronounced. If there is a Mormon Issue of any sort it's probably not as big a deal here either.
Nate Silver lays out five possibilities for the next part of the campaign and gives a historical basis for them. He doesn't say which is the most likely but one of them is that Florida is a fluke and that all Gingrich needs is a crack and he's back in the game.
Today Romney gave him that crack. Speaking to CNN he said "I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there." He went on to say that he'd fix the safety net if it was broken and that there needed to be something for the middle class. But in the interview he went on and doubled down: the very poor? They're taken care of ...
Presumably the very poor would, I think, disagree. He also talked up food stamps of all things--in a debate cycle where Gingrich won South Carolina on the back of the "Food Stamp President." One of the arguments against Romney is that he is tone-deaf to the masses and simply cannot relate (10k bets, 360k is walkin'-around money, I'm-unemployed-too, and I-like-to-fire-people for starters). The fact is that Romney simply cannot afford to be making more of these kinds of gaffes. Playing avidly into the 1% role is not Mr. Romney's sweet spot for a November win.
What Do I Think?
I've never been impressed with people who claim they'll stay home or vote "3rd Party" in an election. When the time comes these people mostly turn out--oh, sure, apathy does take a toll--but it's on the other side of the bell-curve: the volunteers, the donations--that's where apathy hurts. I think that Gingrich, therefore, still has something--or more correctly has access to something--that Romney doesn't.
I think that people who really like Romney are a smaller category than those who (a) find him acceptable and (b) think he can win (because the empirical evidence shows him either winning or in a tie with Obama and that isn't the case for anyone else--except maybe Ron Paul depending on the poll). I think people who are voting for Gingrich are actually passionate about it. They may be passionate because they believe he will hurt Obama in a debate (intellectually, of course--although I sure many would cheer if Newt decided to throw down). They may passionately believe that Gingrich will say the things that 'can't be said'--that Obama is a socialist and so on. This was enough to volley Trump to the front of the race back when Birtherism was still cool. They may passionately believe that Gingrich will show the press for what it really is--and eviscerate them--but whatever the case ... they are passionate.
In order for Gingrich to come back he needs to deploy the "passion card." That's not hard in a debate when the already-hated moderator serves up a softball. It's a bit harder to do in a long month of campaigning in the Western states--but Gingrich can still do it. Get press time, launch attack ads, and so on.
Consider this article:
I was chatting with a Mormon friend the other day and asking him what Mormons make of Mitt on this uncanny valley question. The phrase he came up with is "the Mormon mask." It's the kind of public presentation that a Mormon with real church authority deploys when dealing with less elevated believers, talking to them, and advising them.And What About Santorum?
Outside of the conspiracy theory that Mitt is keeping Santorum in the race to drain Newt's votes, I think Santorum has one shot to shoot: be the last man standing. If people decide that both Mitt and Newt are irredeemable he might be either a "second look" leader or somewhat more plausibly at this point, a compromise candidate in a brokered convention. Remember: the odds of them picking an unvetted 'super-star' from the back bench will have everyone thinking "Perry ... again." Also: picking someone who has never been in the race is dicey at best (voters don't know them, the active candidates already have infrastructure in many states, etc.)
If both Gingrich and Romney look toxic by August it could be time to go with one of the other two running: Rick Santorum and ... that other guy ... Ronald Something-or-other. There's a clear choice: Santorum. It isn't an insane proposition on his part.