Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Respectable Loss Is Still a Loss

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.”


Malcolm said...

This sums it up

Kath said...

Maybe you are right about some of the reasons Mitt Romney lost. I think that it goes much deeper than that.
Our culture has degraded to the point that good civilizing values are not desired by the majority.
Obama's campaign was very demeaning towards women. The fact that voters did not recognize it just highlights how far our culture has sunk.
The Dems are masterful at making their politics of destruction look like a desirable thing. Sure, there are dumb things said by Republicans but many more sinister words are spoken by Democrats.
It all proved to be too much for Romney to overcome.

rogue wolf1 said...

Romney could have defeated Obama. He couldn't defeat the Obama media tag team.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Yet, Romney had to know going in that the media would be on Obama's side-- why didn't he have a strategy for dealing with it.

At times he seemed to be running scared by the media.

And, now that I think of it, what would have happened if Romney had been more inclusive, if he had included Sarah Palin and even Ron Paul in the convention.... SP is very popular and she was effectively treated like a pariah by the Romney team.

Anonymous said...

The party of "Nicole" won.

rogue wolf1 said...

"Yet, Romney had to know going in that the media would be on Obama's side-- why didn't he have a strategy for dealing with it."

I sure he had a strategy. It obviously didn't work. I'm a boxing fan. Every fighter stepping into the ring has a strategy. Only one get's his arm raised.

n.n said...

Obama got the vulnerable vote. The opportunistic vote, in the majority, was always his.

Anonymous said...

I heard Frank Luntz being interviewed by Sean Hannity on the radio Wednesday. The man is brilliant... simply brilliant. He said the problem is the Romney campaign kept talking about "CAPTIALISM!" and defending it as an American value, while Obama's campaign had already defined him as a plutocrat. Capitalism and plutocrat go together in the mind of the average voter. They called him an aloof plutocrat, he said capitalism is an American value, and just kept digging himself deeper and deeper into a hole because voters couldn't grasp the distinction. It was too heady for them.

Luntz's point is that Republicans should be emphasizing "Economic Freedom" as a key value. He went back-and-forth with Sean because Sean thought it was just semantics. But when you heard the back-and-forth, you saw the brilliance of what Luntz is offering. It's what we want. We want people to be able to succeed economically. People hear tax breaks for the rich, and the vision they get in their brains is a guy like Romney building on his $250 million fortune using unearned income while they're busting their butts every day to feed their families. That's what capitalism looks like to to them. Capitalism is all about capital, and the average voter doesn't have a lot of it. It plays right into Obama's strategy of defining Romney. There was no room to maneuver. Checkmate. Quicksand. Jeep stuck in the mud. It's over. It was over Tuesday night... early.

So when you think of "Economic Freedom," that is something that resonates with the majority of Americans who haven't sold their souls to Leftist idealism yet. Obamacare is not economic freedom, it's a planned government service with rationing that leaves the citizen at the mercy of the real plutocrats, bureaucrats and parasites of Washington, D.C.... where the 1% really live:

I've thought about it every way back-and-forth, and I say "Economic Freedom" is a winner. You run a campaign on that idea, and then you roll tape with "You didn't build that!" and the conversation completely changes. It's a way to emphasize personal responsibility and economic empowerment without it looking like these are exclusively "white" values. Consider:

Economic freedom is great way to frame the meteoric rise of births to single mothers: it basically puts them in poverty from the starting line. Economic freedom as a core value simultaneously shames the men who leave their pregnant women and prevent them from having economic options and possibilities.

Economic freedom as an idea completely changes the education issue into a focus on a young American's future. Talking about "Capitalism" to a 18-year-old high school dropout is a recipe for failure... not only is it some abstract economic concept to them, they see that they're not a capitalist because they have no capital and see no way to amass capital because they're 18 years old and on their own without a high school degree. Talk about "18 and life."

Economic freedom reframes the issue of illegal drugs. If you use or abuse drugs (including alcohol) you are reducing your opportunity for economic freedom. You will be dependent on government and become a slave to a nameless, faceless, bureaucratic state that cannot love you as a human being -- you are a number to the government. You get a check, and you're all alone. Economic freedom is not possible when you come from that place.

Consider the immigration argument. If you come to America with no job, no skills and no family, you will arrive with the deck stacked against your economic freedom. You will come here, but will you really be free? Is this right? Do we want people to just come to America, or do we want them to succeed?


Anonymous said...


I could go on and on, because Luntz's idea is truly remarkable in its elegance and simplicity. It's real, tangible and understandable. "Economic freedom" is something everyone wants, yet few seem to have. Obama's slogan of "Forward" is not effective within a framework of economic freedom. Economic freedom transcends the mainstream media's ability to control the message. It's innately attractive. Ears perk-up when you hear those words. People listen.

Let me be clear: I am a capitalist and I love capitalism. Sure, it's not perfect, but what's the alternative? I'm for re-framing the conversation. We've got to move off of the whole "capitalism" bit, from a messaging standpoint. Free markets are great when they're tied to economic freedom. When they're tied to capitalism, free markets sound like places where capitalists make more money for themselves. Obama talked about "Everyone getting a real shot" at success. Yet economic freedom is not in his plan. It's a patriarchal outlook... we will tend to the flock of sheep and make sure they have sustenance. Okay, but that's not economic freedom, that's dependency. I know Republicans are feeling cynical these days about their fellow voters, but let's be honest... who really WANTS to be dependent on government? We all want to be loved, we all want to connect. Government can't do that. There's no dignity available there.

Just some food for thought. Republicans have to reframe the conversation at a higher level and talk about something other than capitalism and tax cuts. People who don't pay taxes (nearing 50%) don't care about tax cuts. They care about getting checks. Yet they have no economic freedom, and they know it. And they want it.


Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you, Tip, as always.

I agree with your basic point. How a campaign frames the issues, what wording it uses is critically important.

You are certainly right to say that emphasizing capitalism does not work for people who have no capital.

Tax cuts mean nothing to people who do not pay taxes. Just look at what happened in California-- they raised taxes to pay off union contracts. How many of those who voted to raise taxes really pay taxes.

What I fear is that we are creating an underclass that lives in such despair that it does not believe that it can succeed at all. It will come to believe that freedom is yet another hoax, another means of exploiting them.

At some point they arrive at the conclusion that the world, that is, the rich, owe them a living. Feeling cheated they believe that their entitlement programs are something that they deserve.

rogue wolf1 said...

"What I fear is that we are creating an underclass that lives in such despair that it does not believe that it can succeed at all. It will come to believe that freedom is yet another hoax, another means of exploiting them.

At some point they arrive at the conclusion that the world, that is, the rich, owe them a living. Feeling cheated they believe that their entitlement programs are something that they deserve."

They already exist, they're called African Americans

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Stuart. WIth great suffering comes great entitlement.

@rogue wolf1, this has to do with race. This is about a fundamental breakdown in the family structure. When you become a single mother, you've penalized yourself so much... it's incredibly difficult to come back. The breakdown of traditional norms around the nuclear family is the main source of underclass circumstances that have been, over the last two decades, normalized through an empathetic, talk show, therapy culture that "celebrates" everyone's lifestyle so they don't hurt anyone's feelings, yet do nothing to change the social destruction.

I live in Detroit, a city that is 90% African-American. The out-of-wedlock birth rate is 82%. That leaves a newborn with a difficult road to walk. There may be a correlation between race and underclass poverty, but it certainly is not causation. I have many black friends who have reached middle- and upper-class status. They leave Detroit. We call it "green flight" now. It's not about getting away from a particular race, it's about getting out because the city is falling apart. If you've got the money, you leave. That's because the city's social culture is imploding. That's what the breakdown of the traditional family means.

So before you correlate the underclass with African Americans, I would encourage you to review the Census data and take a look at what's happening in the white community. Because the Jerry Springer culture has been springing up in white America, too, and the "wisdom" of this whatever-I-want-to-do culture is catching up with us. The problem is not race. The problems are culture and behavior. What we are willing to accept is what we'll get.


Anonymous said...

In what I just posted, I meant to address @rogue wolf1 in the first sentence by saying "this has nothing to do with race."

It appears that I should edit a bit more before posting. That said, the rest of my comments capture the gist of what I was trying to say. This is not a race thing, this is a culture and behavior thing, and social customs always follow the culture.