Like Newt Gingrich in South Carolina two weeks ago, Mitt Romney got the double-digit victory in Florida he needed with his back against the wall. And just like South Carolina did, Florida has also taught us some lessons going forward.
1. Latino voters are ready for an honest conversation about illegal immigration.
For months now Gingrich has been talking about the American people not being willing to deport long-standing families of illegals who have been in the country for 20 years or more. Romney, who used to be pro-amnesty, moved to the right of Gingrich on the immigration issue during the Florida primary without coming across as threatening or incendiary. In the end, Florida Latino voters went strong for Romney, proving that perhaps the party establishment hand-wringing the past few years over the loss of Latino voters due to getting tough on illegal immigration is at least a little overblown.
2. The establishment plays to win at all costs.
There are certainly things in Gingrich’s past that his primary opponents can exploit to their favor should they wish to, but the Republican Party establishment was so desperate to have their proxy win the Florida Primary they were actually willing to bypass most of that and flat-out lie to win instead. The party establishment made the false claim Gingrich was guilty of ethics violations as Speaker, when he was actually exonerated. The party establishment made the phony and easily refutable claim Gingrich was some sort of anti-Reagan RINO in the 1980s, even taking a speech Gingrich gave back in the day out of context when he was criticizing Reagan for not being hard-right enough.
Sarah Palin’s observation that the establishment is willing to do things to conservatives they’d never do to Democrats is spot on. Until conservatives are willing to answer in-kind they’re likely to keep losing primaries to the Republicrat establishment.
3. Professionalism trumps activism.
Gingrich was drawing crowds on the ground in Florida in the thousands, including one event some long-time sunshine state observers said was the largest crowd for a candidate they’d ever seen. However, the Romney campaign weathered that storm and a post-South Carolina Gingrich bump with its superior organization. It was estimated about a third of the Florida Primary vote was accounted for before the outcome of the South Carolina primary was known, which meant Gingrich was going to need to win on election day by 5-8 points to compensate for it.