Gingrich did not learn the lesson of Romney’s first wave of attacks against him. At that time, Gingrich reacted angrily and publicly, complaining constantly and accusing Romney of lying. Voters in New Hampshire who were once open to Gingrich’s candidacy turned away from him, saying his hot-tempered response to the ads — rather than the ads themselves — just turned them off…In Florida, Romney’s answer was a second, even bigger, wave of attacks. And Gingrich reacted in the same complaining, self-defeating way he did the first time, only more so…
Every time Gingrich, provoked by a Romney ad, made an angry speech, as he did in Mount Dora, the answer he gave showed voters exactly where Angry Newt was. Romney, in the persona he presents to voters, doesn’t have that subtext of anger.
I’m an issues person, and I spend a lot of time here talking about just that: issues. But I can’t help but notice that in all campaigns, spectators aren’t exactly the Jack Webbs of the voting process: just the issues, Mister, just the issues. There’s a lot of emotional reaction involved too, including the evaluation of the affective qualities of the candidates themselves. That may sound irrational (and some of it is) but it’s really not. Temperament matters, especially in a president.
I think a big part of Gingrich’s problem is temperament, and the problem is real. As far as Newt’s supporters are concerned, his anger is one of his strengths and not a problem at all. When it’s directed at the media it seems to work for him, although that may be getting a bit old. When it’s directed at Mitt Romney it has been working less effectively, especially when it features attacks that are from the left and/or hyperbole.
Gingrich is already a “hot” candidate rather than a cool one, and he runs the risk of seeming intemperate and out-of-control when he goes off like that. I submit that his decision to go angry in Florida was not just a tactical one; it was dictated by his personality itself. Voters in Florida decided that was not the sort of man they wanted facing Obama, or in the Oval Office.
Remember back in the fall of 2008, when the financial crisis happened and Obama seemed so cool and collected while John McCain seemed like an impulsive hothead running around in circles? Remember that McCain had been ahead up to the time of the meltdown (the financial one, and his own) and then he fell behind? There were many reasons it happened—one was that McCain was not perceived as being knowledgeable about the economy, as he himself had previously admitted. But the other (and I submit that it was a major factor) was that people felt uneasy about his temperament and soothed by Obama’s.
Romney is much more like Obama in that regard: he has a calm demeanor. Some say too calm; he needs more pizazz. His problem (at least, one of them) is that he’s considered fake and inauthentic. So a little righteous anger does nothing to hurt him; it actually reassures people that he’s human.
[ADDENDUM: Rusty Shackleford says much the same thing, just in a different way. We disagree on one thing, though: he thinks it’s stupid to judge candidates on things like personality rather than issues. As I wrote above, I don’t think it’s all that stupid at all.]