The new politics is looking pretty old right now.
First, the advent of social media was supposed to change everything. Then the onslaught of this year's Republican debates -- 13 so far -- changed everything even more, enabling the underfunded, disorganized campaign of Newt Gingrich to shoot to the top of the polls on the basis of his debating prowess and free media exposure.
Gingrich is now tanking in the polls in Iowa while still tied for first nationally. In the ABC News/Washington Post poll of likely Iowa voters, which concluded December 4, Gingrich was at 33 percent. By December 18, the Insider Advantage poll of likely Iowa voters had Gingrich cratering at 13 percent.
Chalk it up to that old standby that everyone loves to hate: the 30-second attack ad. Gingrich has been pummeled on the air in Iowa; the campaigns or outside supporters of Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney have all targeted him with negative ads. According to today's Washington Post, Perry's camp has spent $1.7 million on TV in Iowa, Romney's $853,000 and Paul's $632,000. Not all of the ads are negative, but Iowa is not an expensive state. You can buy a whole lot of ill will for just a half million bucks.
Gingrich has promised to run "a different kind of campaign," though whether he made the promise more out of necessity than conviction, given his lack of money, is an open question. “The people who are standing with this campaign have rejected reality TV politics,” Gingrich said, “and they hunger for the kind of nuanced debate worthy of our national history.”
The history of political campaigns in the past half century has been shaped to a large and disturbing degree by television advertising. As an almost uniquely target-rich environment, Gingrich made his moneyed foes' job almost too easy. But his rapid Iowa decline proves once again that the reign of the 30-second ad in U.S. politics is not over.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)