Everyone has an opinion about why Mitt Romney lost. Let’s face it: so many of those opinions sound reasonable because there’s so many facts on which to base them. If you want to blame the media, Romney’s staff, Karl Rove’s pointless $400 million super-PACs or the Obama campaign’s relentless negativity, you have a point but not the whole point.
We have to burrow through the facts, separate the important ones from those that aren’t, separate the reasons from the excuses, and kick the whiners to the side of the road. Conservatives have an advantage in this because we don’t ignore facts, no matter how ugly they may be. And make no mistake, dear reader: there’s no putting lipstick on this pig. Let’s butcher it and light the grill.
There are six fundamental reasons Mitt Romney lost. Some are personal to Mr. Romney, some are demographic, and some are the fault of the Republican Party. Each one is related to the others and, combined, the sum is greater than the parts.
First, let’s dispose of the whiners’ reasons. It’s time for conservatives and Republicans — and if ever the two were different, it was in this election — to stop whining about the media. Yes, the media was in Obama’s pocket to an unprecedented degree this year. They weren’t just biased, they were engaged in political activism, as we saw in the moderators’ performances in the debates through the primary and general election campaigns.
Poor candidates deal with media bias by sighing. Good candidates find ways around it. Romney didn’t. The whiners say that the media didn’t make an issue of Obama’s great vulnerabilities from the tax hikes coming in January to the Benghazi scandal. But it’s not the media’s job — even if it were unbiased — to create issues for Romney to run on. It was his job, and he didn’t do it.
This brings us to Reason 1: Romney lacked the political skills to win. The most basic of political skills — as I wrote back in April — is the reflex to attack when your opponent exposes a weakness. This is so fundamental that no campaign can succeed without it. The point of a campaign is to draw sharp contrasts between the candidates so that voters have a clear choice. Romney’s political reflexes were so poor that he chose to ignore Obama’s worst moves and didn’t capitalize on them. Time after time, Romney didn’t do what he needed to do.
Nothing is an issue unless the candidate makes it an issue. Time after time, Obama led with his chin and Romney failed to take a roundhouse swing at him. From Obama’s executive order changing U.S. law on illegal immigrants to pretty much everything on foreign policy, Romney agreed with Obama.
When Romney didn’t make an issue of Obama’s Benghazi mess — with Fox News and others hammering it for almost a month before Election Day — Romney blew it. He obviously was unprepared to deal with it in the second debate and avoided it entirely in the third.
The second reason was that Romney was badly damaged in a media-run primary campaign. There is no Republican leadership with the influence to persuade those who shouldn’t run — Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, and others — not to throw their hats in the ring. Too many candidates chose to batter the others even though they had no chance to win. No matter who came out of that mess, he or she would have been weaker than if there had been a shorter primary campaign with debates run by moderators more interested in contrasting the Republicans with Obama than with each other.
What excuse can the Republican Party possibly have for letting people such as George Stephanopoulos and Diane Sawyer moderate the primary debates? The moderators were there for only one purpose: to help the candidates damage each other, and the candidates obliged. They all bear some responsibility for Romney’s loss.
The third reason for Romney’s loss is one that I have been writing about for nigh onto six years. Romney is a technocrat, not someone who excites voters enough to turn out to vote for him. Romney lacked core principles and wasn’t seen as trustworthy. Republicans win when they run ideological candidates. Romney has no core ideology, just business acumen. As I wrote in February, Romney’s enthusiasm gap was his biggest vulnerability. If he couldn’t energize the Republican base and achieve the level of enthusiasm needed to ensure voter turnout, he couldn’t win in November.
This seems to have been borne out in the post-election polling. As Sean Trende wrote in RealClearPolitics last week, in 2012 there was not only a surge in minority voting, but a major reduction in white votes. According to Trende’s analysis, about 7 million white voters just didn’t bother to vote. This amounts to an explosion of indifference to Romney but it doesn’t explain Obama’s dominance among the minorities.
Which brings us to the fourth reason Romney lost, which is the demographic shift in many states. The whiners are convinced that Romney couldn’t win because of the huge minority turnout for Obama. That’s partly true, but wasn’t an insoluble problem this year and won’t be in future elections.
The minority population isn’t all welfare deadbeats. Those people are outnumbered — at least so far — by religious people, blue and white-collar voters and a huge constituency we used to call the “Reagan Democrats.” But you can’t expect these people to vote for you unless you campaign for their votes. How many Catholics would have voted for Romney if he had made an issue of Obama’s assault on their religious institutions?
Another part of that problem is illegal immigration. We need to think long and hard about that. “Self-deportation” isn’t the answer. We can evolve on this without compromising principle. Five years ago, while editor of Human Events, I established an editorial position that called first for securing the borders and then — when that is accomplished in a verifiable way — allow those here already to get work permits but not citizenship.
The relentless negativity and agility of Obama’s campaign was the fifth reason Romney lost. Obama concentrated on characterizing Romney in every way — some fundamentally untrue — but where was Romney’s counter-imaging of Obama? Romney’s sole theme was that he was better able to fix our economy’s problems. That inflexible narrative was destroyed by Obama’s themes — crafted carefully to suit individual liberal constituencies — which successfully characterized Romney as disconnected from the average American, dedicated only to helping the rich and destroying women’s rights.
By contrast Romney, running hard and doing his best, remained on the defensive throughout the campaign. Neither Romney nor his supposed allies in the super-PAC community went outside the narrative that Obama had crafted. Romney and his campaign remained hermetically sealed. They refused offers of help from constituencies — including aerospace unions — that could have helped with constituencies otherwise out of reach.
Which brings us to the last reason Romney lost: the huge and ineffective campaigns run by super-PACs such as Karl Rove’s “American Crossroads.” Rove’s outfits alone gathered about $400 million from donors and simply didn’t do their job. That money — if invested in more politically-acute efforts — could have helped Romney immensely. But the money only served to further feed the egos and incomes of the people running the super-PACs.
So there are the facts, as plainly as they can be parsed out. Romney lost not only because of his own poor political skills, but because the Republican Establishment allowed itself to be controlled by people more interested in their own enrichment than in electoral success and nominated a candidate who was doomed from the start.