As the old saying goes: Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan.
Given the opportunity and the stakes Mitt Romney’s loss last night represents a significant failure.
The election was his to lose, and lose it he did.
Romney lost the election. He lost the popular vote and he lost the electoral vote. Under his leadership, the Republican Party lost two seats in the Senate. Republicans should have won the Senate. They could not even hold the seats they had.
What went wrong?
The Wall Street Journal editorialized this morning on Romney’s biggest errors, especially his inexplicable decision to alienate Hispanic voters:
Yet Mr. Romney also made some fateful strategic errors. He took too long to defend his Bain Capital record, letting the Obama campaign pummel him with more than $100 million in unanswered attack ads from May through July. He then devoted too much of the GOP convention to rehabilitating his own image to the detriment of laying out an agenda. Only in the first debate did voters get to see Mr. Romney explain his Medicare and tax reform plans in clear, reasonable terms—and he rose in the polls.
Perhaps most damaging, Mr. Romney failed to appeal more creatively to minority voters, especially Hispanics. His single worst decision may have been to challenge Texas Governor Rick Perry in the primaries by running to his right on immigration. Mr. Romney didn't need to do this given that Mr. Perry was clearly unprepared for a national campaign, and given the weakness of the other GOP candidates.
And then there was the Akin effect, so named for the imbecile in Missouri who not only lost a Senate seat against a wildly unpopular Democrat but who managed to transform the abortion issue into a rape issue.
If you are asking why Republicans got beaten so badly among single women, think Todd Akin.
A politician can win by being pro-life or pro-choice. He cannot win by sounding stupid, especially on an issue as emotionally charged as rape.
The Republican establishment repudiated Akin, but the damage was done. As long as Akin stayed in the race the Republican Party became the party that seemed incapable of understanding rape.
Of course, Democrats can also thank Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock for adding his own dash of stupidity to the mix by opining about God’s view of rape in a recent debate.
If the wound caused by Akin had been healing, Mourdock ripped off the scab by declaring that if a woman gets pregnant during a rape it’s because God wanted it to happen.
Mourdock’s opponents gleefully responded that he was also implying that the rape itself was also God’s will.
Of course, Mitt Romney was a highly flawed candidate. He was a good and decent man, an exceptionally good businessman, and the darling of a Republican establishment that craved moderation. As a politician he made significant mistakes.
Symptomatic of his tin political ear was the choice of John Sununu as a privileged spokesman. Few politicians are less likable than John Sununu.
This morning I went back to look over some of what I had written about Romney during the primary election campaign.
I was hardly along in remarking the faults and flaws in the Romney candidacy. Naturally, I warmed up to Romney as the campaign went on, but it’s worthwhile to re-examine some of the misgivings I and others identified previously.
On Nov 13, 2011 I offered Roger Kimball’s analysis of Romney’s failings as a candidate:
Romney supporter Roger Kimball reiterates his reservations about his preferred candidate: “Mitt Romney is our Bob Dole, a company man at a moment when the problem is the company. We are living through a serious crisis–really, multiple crises — and many people look at old Mr. Business-as-usual, “is-it-my-turn yet?” Romney and wonder whether he is really up to the job. He deploys a sly, knowing smile when Rick Perry forgets how to count from 1 to 3. He certainly has competent hair — the most competent, I think, of the entire campaign. But what, besides competent hair, can be said for him? That he’s not Obama — true enough, and that fact should not be minimized. But think of the relatively small proportion of people who are Obama. That cannot be the distinguishing feature of the successful Republican candidate. What we need is vigor, leadership, and wisdom, not the path of least resistance dolled up with an attractive herbaceous border.”
For my part I added:
The Romney campaign has brilliantly convinced everyone that a Romney candidacy is inevitable and that a Romney victory is a sure thing.
Yet, we do not really know how well the Romney aura will hold up under hundreds of millions of dollars of negative advertising and under the attacks that the mainstream media will launch against him.
Most people realize today that Romney’s failure to respond to negative attack ads on Bain Capital hurt him significantly in states like Ohio.
On December 6, 2011 I raised the same issue:
When it comes to Romney, we do not know how well he can counterpunch. He does well enough in one-minute sound bites on a debate stage, but he flubbed his interview with Bret Baier the other week, and his brittle, defensive,and irascible posture did serious damage to the assumption that he could offer an effective counterattack to the coming Democratic assault.
I had also commented on the Baier interview on December 2:
Baier’s interview revealed that Romney had a glass jaw. It showed that his aplomb was skin deep.
The debate format had allowed him to evade a serious discussion about Romneycare and the other liberal policies that he had implemented in Massachusetts. Baier asked follow-up questions and the candidate looked increasingly flustered.
Called to account by Baier, Romney showed himself to be testy, irascible, petulant, and largely hostile. After the interview he complained to Baier that he thought the interview was unfair.
Ask yourself how well Romney counterpunched against Candy Crowley during the second debate?
After the third debate I reflected that, by failing to address what happened in Benghazi Romney looked like he was running scared.
I wrote a great deal about Romney’s likability, or lack of same. Surely, he seemed capable and competent during the first debate, but if we want to understand how he could possibly have lost, we should pay more heed to the picture that emerged during the primary season.
At the time of the Iowa caucuses, January 4, 2012, I wrote this:
It’s no longer Ronald Reagan’s party. It is Mitt Romney’s party.
Gone is the congeniality and the civility; now we have negative emotion, brutal attacks, and wall-to-wall nastiness.
People liked Ronald Reagan. No one really likes Mitt Romney.
People knew what Ronald Reagan stood for. No one really knows what Mitt Romney stands for or what a Romney agenda would look like.
All everyone knows is that Mitt Romney stands for Mitt Romney….
The negative ads run in Romney’s name have seriously damaged his most prominent opponents, but they have left him with around 25% of the Republican Party vote. They have also created a fractured and dispirited party.
You cannot inspire people by trashing your Republican competition. You will not generate enthusiasm by constantly attacking your fellow Republicans.
In the end you are going to set Republican against Republican and provoke an intraparty civil war.
In the end the party looks bad. It does not inspire confidence. People will be less likely to vote for a party that is divided against itself.
It’s fair to suggest that if Romney were as true a Republican as he says he is he would have adopted a more conciliatory and respectful approach to the rest of the primary field.
Given his tactics and given the divisions they have sown he will, if he gets the nomination, be very poorly placed to unite the party and to burnish its brand.
Finally, there is Obamacare.
In 2010 Obamacare was a winning issue for Republicans. In 2012 it was hardly an issue at all.
It was never going to be an issue for a party led by a man who had enacted an extremely similar plan while he was governor of Massachusetts.
I wrote on July 25, 2011:
The truth is: if Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee, then the party will not be able to make Obamacare an issue in the campaign. Having just won an extraordinary victory in the mid-term elections by running against Obamacare, why would the Republican party neutralize the issue in 2012.
And I also quoted Quin Hillyer on Obamacare in a post from January 14, 2012:
Hillyer writes: “Finally, but perhaps most importantly, Romney just can't campaign against Obama's single biggest vulnerability, Obamacare. There are just too many similarities between Obamacare and Romneycare, too many bad results from Romneycare (busting the budget, etc.), and too many video clips of Romney from six years ago saying that he hoped that even the individual insurance mandate would become a ‘national model.’ This will absolutely hobble Romney's campaign. In fact, it might be an insurmountable problem.”
He concludes: “All of which is to say that Willard Mitt Romney has very low growth potential in a general-election campaign against Obama. His downside might be not as low as John McCain's was, four years ago, but his upside is negligible. As Larry Lindsey's analysis (mentioned above) explains, this can be an easy recipe for what I call a ‘respectable loss.’ But a loss is a loss is a loss. Romney is a weak general-election candidate who isn't likely to get any better.”