A Further Perspective

McCain Beats Romney!

The Pennsylvania story -- how did it and so much else go wrong?

By 11.9.12

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Brace yourselves, conservatives. What I’m about to say will hurt, and it should hurt -- and I’m not the first to notice. (Kudos to Rush Limbaugh, who noticed and is hitting this point hard.) Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election not so much because he got fewer votes than Barack Obama but because he got fewer votes than John McCain in 2008.

Additional votes are still coming in, but, as of the time of my writing, Romney received around 57.8 million votes in 2012. In 2008, John McCain received 59.9 million. Romney got over 2 million fewer votes than McCain. And in the final count, he will almost certainly have received considerably fewer votes than McCain.

Obama received 60.6 million votes in 2012, almost 9 million less than he received in 2008. If Romney would have had McCain’s vote total, he would have been much closer in the popular vote and might have even had enough to win the Electoral College. Or, better put, if Mitt Romney had secured just a tiny fraction more votes than John McCain -- as we conservatives were certain he would -- he might have won the presidency.

We know this: Romney won independents by 5 points, and they made up 29% of all voters. McCain didn’t win independents.

What does this really mean? That’s where the hurt comes. It appears to mean that our side lost because we failed to turn out our side. It isn’t so much that the Obama-Axelrod apparatus turned out their side -- though they did -- but that our side failed to do what it should have done.

In other words, this was a self-inflicted wound by Republicans, and a fatal one. It explains why the likes of Dick Morris, Michael Barone, George Will, Newt Gingrich, and myself were completely wrong in predicting a Romney landslide. We were certain that pollsters were oversampling Democrats in polls that had Romney-Obama dead even or Romney up by one or two points. The pro-Republican, pro-Romney, and anti-Obama enthusiasm we were seeing was extremely intense. It was inconceivable to us that it could be overcome by a higher Democrat turnout. We were expecting turnout akin to 2010, which favored Republicans big-time.

And so, Republicans have no one to blame but themselves. I wouldn’t blame Mitt Romney. He did a superb job. I initially had not been a Romney supporter, but he won me over. He came across as a genuinely decent man, one with an unprecedented business background for a presidential nominee. In retrospect, I couldn’t imagine a better candidate for the job at this particular time and given America’s current (economic) vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, Romney couldn’t pick up votes among Democrats because (exit polls confirm this) Obama and his campaign succeeded in convincing Democrats that Obama’s disastrous economic record is the fault of George W. Bush. That’s a truly incredible thing, but when you consider this nation’s economic illiteracy, and Democrats’ willingness to unquestioningly accept anything their leaders tell them, it isn’t a huge surprise.

The exit poll data also shows that only 7% of Democrats voted for Mitt Romney, just a tad better than the 6% of Republicans who voted for Obama. In short, there really weren’t any Romney Democrats.

But that doesn’t explain our side. Why didn’t our side show up for Mitt Romney?

Was the intensity enthusiasm not as broad as we thought? Did our side feel we had this in the bag? Did a lot of conservatives not vote for Romney out of fear that he’s a closet moderate, a closet liberal, a RINO, or Mr. Etch-a-Sketch?

Was it the Mormon factor? I don’t think so. As Mark Tooley wrote here yesterday, evangelicals and faithful Catholics went to the polls for Romney, giving him stronger support than in 2008.

Many conservatives from the outset urged the Republican Party not to go with Romney, figuring he was another moderate Republican destined to lose -- like John McCain. On the other hand, they turned out and gave John McCain a lot more votes.

And what about my state of Pennsylvania, which I embarrassed myself by predicting it would go for Mitt Romney? It seems to have suffered the same problem.

Romney received 2.58 million votes in Pennsylvania. In 2008, John McCain received 2.65 million. Obama received 2.86 million votes in Pennsylvania in 2012 (compared to 3.28 million in 2008). If Romney would have achieved or exceeded McCain’s vote total in Pennsylvania, the state would have been much closer -- closer to what Pennsylvania polls were showing (a dead-even race) just before Tuesday’s vote. In 2008, Obama won Pennsylvania by 10 points; in 2012, he won by 5 points. Obama won 18 Pennsylvania counties in 2008; in 2012, he won only 12 (out of 67). In Pennsylvania, Obama’s vote total was way down from 2008, but our side’s total wasn’t up at all.

In Pennsylvania, I saw a red-hot anti-Obama sentiment and very strong support for Romney. But apparently it wasn’t wide enough to compel enough of our side to go to the booth and cast a ballot for Mitt Romney.

Romney lost because our side wasn’t strong enough to lift him across the goal-line. It was like we handed the ball to Obama in the fourth quarter and let him run down field untouched.

What’s the lesson for the GOP? I’m not sure. There are no doubt other factors missing in my analysis. But this much seems certain: The old adage is true -- people prefer to vote for someone rather than against someone. The Republican Party was banking on Republicans turning out to vote against Obama, regardless of who the Republican nominee was. To some extent, they did that -- but not enough.

Imagine: If someone had told you that Barack Obama would receive 9 million fewer votes in 2012 than 2008, you would have predicted his sure defeat. You would have been wrong. Republicans blew a huge opportunity.

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About the Author

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His latest book is 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative.