The Five Reasons Why Romney Lost
I. The Napoleon Factor
Napoleon once observed that one of the key attributes in judging a general was whether the man possessed a lucky streak. He felt that some people seemed to get better breaks than others no matter what their capabilities. In that sense, Napoleon would love Barack Obama. In 2008 the Democratic challenger was slightly behind McCain after Labor Day. Then came the financial panic, which helped him win. This time, Sandy hit the Northeast; the President suddenly took on the Olympian mantle of crisis leadership, aided immensely by hugs from the New Jersey GOP Governor. Romney’s momentum was stopped cold.
II. Obama Dominated the Ground Game
On a tactical level, the Democrats’ ground game was superb in their identifying likely voters and getting them out. Much painstaking work goes into all this and they did it far better than the Republicans.
III. Romney Allowed the Other Side to Define Him & GOP Agenda
Despite a miserable economic record, the President dominated the agenda. On Election Day millions of women were convinced that Romney and the Republican Party were hostile to them. Single women outnumber married women and they went overwhelmingly for Obama. Here again the President was aided immeasurably by two GOP senatorial candidates making indefensible remarks that allowed the Democrats to hammer home their “Republican war on women” theme.
The White House soaked the illegal immigration issue for all it was worth, portraying Republicans as taking a racially tinged approach to the issue. The President got a higher percentage of the Latino vote than he did in 2008.
The President took his grossly politicized actions on the auto industry and portrayed himself as the savior of the industry. General Motors and Chrysler would have emerged as stronger companies long-term through normal bankruptcy proceedings. Astonishingly Republicans never effectively hit the fact that Obama pushed General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy and did so in a way that is costing taxpayers – unnecessarily – tens of billions of dollars.
The President also effectively fobbed off the economy on George Bush. The President’s policies severely hurt economic recovery but Bush ended up getting the blame for the President’s approach.
Although Obama and his regulators did their best to throttle the oil and gas industry, the President shamelessly took the credit for the surge in natural gas output due to fracking, a technology Obama’s EPA will now do all it can to hobble.
The President and his allies spent over $200 million trashing Mitt Romney before the Republican convention. Romney never fully recovered from those assaults, in no small part because his campaign made a major mistake in not responding to them in the spring and summer. While the debates undid much of the damage, they were not enough. As Ed Rollins put it this morning, Romney came across as a credible alternative to Obama but not necessarily the better alternative.
IV. Romney Failed Because His Campaign Failed to Deliver Positive Substance
All this could have been overcome if Mitt Romney had waged an aggressive campaign of positive substance the way Ronald Reagan did when he challenged Jimmy Carter in 1980. The Governor had good ideas on tax reform and other issues but most of the time his approach suggested they were almost sideshows. Instead Romney hammered the poor economy but as Reagan could have told him that approach alone will not do the job for a challenger. Romney also badly mishandled the immigration issue. After winning the primaries, Romney should have embraced the sensible immigration reform bill put together by Republican Senator Marco Rubio. He didn’t do so – a big mistake.
On the auto bailout issue, Romney really didn’t find his voice on that until near the end of the campaign – way too late. The approach Romney suggested back in 2008 was an eminently sensible one under the circumstances, and as noted above, would have left GM a far stronger company and would have saved taxpayers at least $30 billion. Concerning the economy, Romney’s over reliance on the issue hurt him as people began to believe that things were getting better albeit very slowly. On this issue he should have hammered home the fact that the economy is headed for recession next year because of Obama’s new taxes and tsunami-like wave of anti-growth regulations.
Unfortunately the most potent GOP issue came up hardly at all – ObamaCare. More than anything else, this issue was the motivation for the impressive Republican showing in 2010. But Romney could only treat it gingerly because of what he had done as Governor in Massachusetts.
V. GOP Convention Missed Opportunity
At the Republican Convention’s final night there was a stirring documentary about some of Romney’s extraordinary charitable activities. It blasted away at the Democratic stereotype of the uncaring plutocrat. But the thing was shown before primetime with an audience of 10 million. It should have been shown at the start of the 10 p.m. slot when the national audience was 30 million. Moreover, in Romney’s acceptance speech, he mentioned his five major issues only near the end and it came across as an afterthought. These should have led the speech.
Romney would have made an infinitely better President than his campaign.
Other Notes From the Campaign
I thought pollsters were mistaken in relying more on the 2008 voting model over the 2004 model. They were right and I was wrong.
The GOP should have romped with the Senate races. Twenty-three Democratic seats were up to only 10 Republican seats. But give credit to the Democrats. They fielded several very strong candidates and the GOP team as a whole was flawed.