Why Romney Lost: A Bunch Of Reasons

Ken AshfordElection 20121 Comment

1)  You have to be FOR something.  The Romney campaign strategy seemed almost entirely to rely on stoking anti-Obama sentiment.  Every campaign needs to demonize the opponent, but Romney seemed to do that exclusively.  Toward the end, he and his surrogates had the talking point about how Obama failed to fulfill his promises — promises which, if fulfilled, Romney would have opposed.

The best example of this is in the area of healthcare.  Romney said he would get rid of Obamacare.  But THEN what?  He was never clear.  What was he going to do about rising health care costs — the thing that Obamacare was designed to cure?  Or was he going to do nothing?  Again, you have to be FOR something, not just AGAINST something.

2)  Failure to identify who he is and what he would do.  This is related to point one above.  But it's more than that.  Nobody really knew what Romney was about.  And that seemed to be a feature of their campaign strategy, not a bug.  Remember "Etch-A-Sketch"?  So if people have a hard time defining Romney, that made it easier for Obama to fill-in-the-blanks.  In fact, the work was started before Romney got the nomination.  The Republican party voters never warmed to Romney.  They spent months looking for the anti-Romney: Newt, Bachmann, Santorum — even Hermain Cain was at the top of the polls.  And all those candidates piled on Romney for being flip-floppy.

So if Republicans couldn't warm up to Mitt Romney in their primaries, how could the electorate in the general election?

When Romney did make an affirmative case for himself and his policies, it was often stated in general goals.  Stuff like "We need to bring the deficit down, and I'm going to do that."  Well, you know, good on you, buddy.  But everybody — even Obama — wants to bring the deficit down.  What made Romney so special that he thought he could do it?  He never made the case.

3)  Boss Man.  People are generally disfavored to politicians, but I think they have an even  more tangible dislike of bosses.  Bosses are a form of authoritarianism that people encounter on a daily basis — someone who believes himself to be superior, and who knows what's good for you.  And Romney, intentionally or not, positioned himself as a boss.  An employer.  You know, like the guy who just fired your brother… or you!  He took sides with bosses ("entrepreuners"), which would have been good strategy if most of the country were bosses, or even aspired to be.  But most of the country feels — particularly in tough economic times — like they are at the mercy of bosses.  Romney was the Man from Bain, the one who this that corporations are people.  And that hurt him.

4)  Failure to adapt to changing demographics.  I've mentioned this elsewhere.  So has everyone else.  And it's true.  The Republican party can no longer afford to be anti-immigrant (read "anti-Hispanic"), anti-gay, and anti-women.  There just aren't enough angry white men for any party to sustain itself on the national level.

5)  Lying.  Every campaign twists their opponents words.  Romney certainly did.  The whole "you didn't build that" thing.  We know that Obama didn't say that, at least not in the way that Romney ran with it.  (By the way, the "you didn't build that" is only an insult to business owners — again, Romney identifying with the boss man).

But that kind of lie isn't why Romney lost.  He lost because he lied about things that people KNEW was a lie.  He kept telling people that the economy was getting worse, when people KNEW — from their own experiences, the experiences of their family and friends – that it really wasn't getting worse.  Romney had the balls — or stupidity — to tell the American public that the sky was green, when people could just look and see differently.

This tactic really backfired and it especially hurt Romney in the final stretch of the campaign, in Ohio.  He ran ads which said that, thanks to Obama's bailout, Chrysler was going to build jeeps in China.  It just wasn't true.  But he tried to tell this to the people of Ohio, who knew it not to be true.  All the Ohio papers leapt on those ads, noting it wasn't true.  And then something unprecedented: Chrysler itself stepped in and said it wasn't true.

It made the Romney camp look untrustworthy and/or desparate.  And it absolutely killed whatever hope he might have had in the Midwest.  Killed it.

6)  47%.  I think Romney's 47% remark will be discussed and studied for some time to come.  Back in 1979, Jimmy Carter talked about the nation's "malaise", and people got really pissed off, and voted him out.  This is like that, but worse.

Understand what Romney did, and think about it for a second.  The man stood in a room of rich donors, and insulted 47% of the country!  That's ballsy.

Now, some people said it wasn't that bad, because most people don't consider themselves to be the freeloaders that Romney was disparaging.  But that's irrelevant.  *I* don't think *I'm* in the 47%, but I was still insulted.  How can a man hope to lead the country when he disparages half of it?

Imagine this.  Imagine your boss gathers you and your employees together in a room, and says, "You know what?  Half of you are lazy assess."  Now, would you want that boss to be your leader? 

And nothing Romney said afterwards could undo it.  He called it a "gaffe", although people know it wasn't.  A gaffe is when you confuse "Iran" and "Iraq" for a split second because of a brain fart.  Romney stood at a podium and for a full 30 seconds insulted voters.  And even though he later said that he intended to be the president for "all America", he never took back or explain the actual insult.  He never explained what he intended to say (assuming he "said things wrong" to begin with).  

Insulting almost half of the American taxpayers?  Oh, yeah.  That hurt him.

7)  Yes, Sandy.  In the heat of a presidential election, the electorate sometimes forgets that this is about real stuff, and it's not just a reality show being played out.  The election has consequences.

Sandy came along and subtly reminded everybody that the President of the United States actually has some serious things to contend with. 

When Sandy hit, all Obama had to do was his job.  He didn't have to ACT presidential; he just had to be President.  And that's what he did — his job.  And suddenly, people forgot about Big Bird and the other silliness of the campaign.  And they liked — or were reminded of what they liked — in President Obama.  And that was enough to give me the edge.

8)  Bad ground operation.  The Republicans piss off unions.  Democrats support them.  So you get the public employees union, teacher's union, labor unions, etc. all working together to get out the vote.  Again, like the 47% thing, you only git what you give.

9)  Being hawkish to a war-weary nation. 

10)  Opposition to auto bailout.  Put him at a disadvantage from the beginning with the Midwest.  Never really explained it away.

UPDATE:  Over at The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen offers an overriding theory as to why Romney lost, to wit:

May I suggest instead a simple, elegant overriding theory on why we won't have a Romney Administration in 2013? No serious political party in America — no legitimate party in any viable democracy — can win an election by suppressing votes. So long as the Republican Party endorses (and enacts) voting laws designed to make it harder for registered voters to vote, so long as Republican officials like Ohio's Jon Husted contort themselves to interpret those laws in a restrictive fashion, the Republicans will continue to play a loser's game.

That's my theory, anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

I don't think that was a contributing factor this time, but I can see how it could hurt a party generally in the long game.