FORT MYERS, Fla. - During an interview about the scorched-earth parallels between the Mitt Romney-Newt Gingrich 2012 Florida campaign and the George W. Bush-John McCain 2000 South Carolina campaign, former McCain aide John Weaver warned that Romney may have gone too far with Gingrich.
Granted, Weaver was a top adviser to former Romney rival Jon Huntsman.
And granted, too, there’s still little affection between the 2000 Bush and McCain advisers.
But a veteran of numerous political campaigns argues that the winning candidate should resist the temptation to emasculate the loser.
The short-term primary pleasure, Weaver told the Globe yesterday, complicates the long-term general election goal.
“The bragging about wanting to ‘destroy’ Gingrich, and laying out publicly how they have plans to disrupt his events and drive him into the sea, I don’t see what that gets you at the end of the day,” he said.
“Politics is about addition, not subtraction, and eventually, if they are the nominee, they are going to need the enthusiastic support of the people supporting Gingrich right now,” Weaver added.
Gingrich himself has indicated he will not submit to the abuse, vowing to continue his campaign all the way until this summer’s Republican National Convention even if he loses today’s Florida primary to Romney.
In days past, that could be taken as something as an idle threat, since a candidate could only campaign as long as his contributions flowed.
But the 2012 campaign, the first fueled by the support of so-called super PACs, makes it possible for a candidate to continue campaigning so long as they retain the support of just a few wealthy donors.
A pro-Gingrich super PAC has already received $10 million in donations from Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam Ochsorn. The “Winning Our Future” super PAC, in turn, has used the money to air anti-Romney ads.
While such super PACs are legally barred from coordinating with a candidate or his campaign, they can sponsor supportive advertising while the candidate himself is able to remain on the stump by raising little more than the cost of an airline ticket.
In attacking Gingrich so viciously, Weaver warns, Romney only raises the odds that the former House speaker won’t drop out of the race despite a major loss such as in Florida.
“It certainly doesn’t leave Gingrich with a lot of gracious outs, and he strikes me as a very determined fellow, and given the new fund-raising rules, there’s no reason he wouldn’t go forward - particularly with their behavior,” the political strategist said.
Glen Johnson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.