Real subtle, Mitt:
At first blush, the purpose of this ad is painfully obvious: Contrast the Romneys' functional fidelity with *cough* someone else's well-known martial issues. Although his critics will have some fun with the "steadiness and constancy" line, Team Romney isn't aiming to evoke a policy reaction here. This is personal. If Newt Gingrich were a lesser known figure, I might be inclined to say this spot was a savvy maneuver by the Romney campaign. I tend to think it won't hurt Romney at all -- but will it help? If you're an Iowa or New Hampshire citizen who cares enough about primary politics that you're willing to trek out into the January cold to vote, I'd wager that you're aware that Newt Gingrich is thrice married. You also probably know that Newt cheated on each of his first two wives with the woman he'd marry next. You may even have heard -- and perhaps believed -- the thoroughly debunked fictional tale that he once served divorce papers to his second wife on her death bed (he didn't, and she wasn't). The point is that Newt's copious "baggage" is the opposite of a secret.
I suppose Romney is hoping to remind these very same voters that they have nothing to worry about on the personal front with him. Perhaps some primarygoers are still spooked by Herman Cain's alleged sex-related surprises and harbor uneasy suspicions that Democrats and their media allies will ensure that Newt's past troubles will bubble to the surface in a general election. Maybe that's the angle here: Sow a little more doubt, play up one of your strengths, and hope to move some votes. I just don't see it happening. If you're appalled by Newt's past behavior and think it could sink him against Obama, you're probably not in his corner anyway.
Conventional wisdom: He's making an overt play for social conservatives, who dominate the caucuses. Sure, that's what he's trying to do, but I'll repeat my previous question -- will it actually help? The Christmas stuff will probably strike a chord, so no quarrel there. But according to a newly-released CBS/NYT poll (I know, I know), only nine percent of Iowa Republicans see social issues as their top concern this cycle. That's an astonishingly low number. The same poll probes respondents' views about same-sex unions. Again, among Iowa Republicans, 58 percent say they support either gay marriage or civil unions, while 38 percent oppose any legal recognition. That doesn't tackle the question of 'don't ask, don't tell' directly, but one can extrapolate. On the other major social issue, roughly eighty percent of those polled support stricter limits or an outright ban on abortion. In other words, if you're going to really pump a cultural issue with Iowa conservatives this cycle, gay rights might not be the best selection.
Plus, if you're an Iowa voter for whom the protection of traditional marriage and values is your top issue, is Rick Perry going to woo you away from Rick Santorum or Michele Bachmann? Again, the strategy here could be longer-term. Maybe the Perry people believe that as January 3rd draws closer, Iowans will gravitate towards candidates with a higher chance of winning, and they hope the Texas Governor is among that group. That's possible, but Iowa seems like the least likely place this would happen since almost every candidate is still in the race and facing a clean slate. Once actual results come in and candidates drop out, the dynamic shifts, and it's more likely that voters will adjust accordingly and refine their electoral calculations. Also, is there much evidence that Perry has a significantly bigger upside than the other two candidates I mentioned (especially Bachmann) at this stage?
I'll leave you with two super-encouraging updates about the two GOP frontrunners:
(1) Mitt Romney is kinda sorta starting to flip-flop on Romneycare. Also, under tough questioning from Phil Klein, he seemed surprised that his "immediate waivers for all 50 states" Obamacare quick-fix might not be legally feasible. Terrific.
(2) Newt's campaign is still struggling with major debt issues, which could impact his ground game in early states. Oh, and there's this tidbit:
The payment suggests that Gingrich was reimbursed ahead of other creditors for a list that he could have given to the campaign as an in-kind contribution.
What a field.