December 10, 2012

Since the election there’s been significant debate across the conservative blogsphere about the Romney campaign and what went wrong in the 2012 election. Lots of fingers are being pointed at Romney campaign’s inner false sense of confidence, their reliance on a much-trumpeted but in the end underwhelming “get-out-the-vote” software thingy called “Orca” in place of old-fashioned leg-work and the identification and marshalling of precinct captains (my AZ GOP contact confirms this as fact), and a play it safe / don’t make any mistakes strategy following Romney’s big first debate win in Denver back in early October.

All of which may be true to various extents, but National Review Online’s Victor Davis Hanson has his own feelings, and I think he’s pretty spot-on when he writes that the fault lies with the Romney campaign’s inability to get their message out effectively enough, and to the right people:

Given his own background and habits, could Romney have done otherwise? After all, the Republican message of lower taxes, less government, reform of entitlements, more individual responsibility, and ample defense spending is easily caricatured by liberals, who expect that about half of the electorate credits Democrats for vast expansions of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, welfare, food stamps, unemployment and disability insurance, and various low-interest loan programs. In that regard, fairly or not, Romney convinced working-class white voters and some conservative minorities that he resembled their uncaring boss more than he offered relief from Barack Obama’s job-killing policies, and that he worried far more about a smaller number of employees than he did about a far larger number of workers.

Romney should have waded into blue states, especially low-income and minority areas—not because he had a real chance of winning a California, New York, or Illinois, but because he could use such occasions to remind all Americans, especially independents and conservative Democrats in swing states, that his agenda was aimed at getting the underclass jobs, empowering the lower middle classes, and giving all Americans more freedom of choice. The Romney economic message should have been aimed not just at job creators but at job seekers: smaller government, he should have argued forcefully, ensures that more people will be hired in the private sector.

Republicans need not necessarily give up on candidates who are wealthy white men in their sixties in favor of candidates who may be easier to market like Marco Rubio, Susan Martinez, or Condoleezza Rice. But to the degree that they nominate men of great wealth and substance, they must be savvy about not allowing them to be caricatured as out of touch plutocrats.

In that sense, opposing blanket amnesty should not be seen as anti-Hispanic, but instead as necessary to ensure that the working American poor, especially unemployed African-Americans and Mexican-Americans, do not have their wages undercut by foreign nationals. Those who wait in line for a legal shot at the American Dream should not be discriminated against by those who cut in line ahead of them. Do we really wish for there to be a vast underclass of exploited green card holders rather than legal immigrants who come with enough skills to have a fighting chance to succeed?

Solar and wind power should have been opposed, not just as Obama administration insider boondoggles and unwise investments, but also as diversions of resources from more exploration of gas and oil on federal lands, which is a proven way to give the unemployed jobs and to lower the cost of power bills and gasoline for average consumers.

While I think Hanson is prety much on target here, I’ll also argue that the Romney campaign and the GOP had a large hill to climb from the very start, for the following reasons:

1. Romney was clearly the strongest candidate in a very weak field of candidates. Once Texas governor Rick Perry stumbled badly in the debates after a strong start out of the gates, Romney was clearly the only candidate with the field organization and experience to run a national campaign. As much as I liked Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, they simply weren’t ready for prime-time as presidential candidates.

2. The bruising primary campaign put the Romney campaign in the unfortunate position of having not only to convince Democrats and independents to vote for him, but conservatives as well. Between the abdication of Ron Paul supporters who resented the treatment of their candidate by the Romney campaign after the primaries and at the Republican convention (a huge mistake, as it turns out), evangelical voters (who distrusted Romney’s Mormon religion), and conservatives who saw Romney as just another RINO chosen by the Washington establishment, there was no way Romney could get the votes he needed to beat even a weak (and weakened) incumbent like Barack Obama.

3. The big mystery is why Romney didn’t dump a huge amount of his own cash into the campaign during the summer months while he was being slammed daily by the Obama campaign as a rich, aloof, and uncaring Bain capitalist interested only in ensuring the rich got to keep their share. Campaign finance laws stipulated that he couldn’t use outside funding until his nomination was formalized during the Republican convention, but that shouldn’t have stopped him from using his own wealth to aggressively counter the effectiveness of the Obama campaign ads. His absence from the media campaign and the big cable news and Sunday programs allowed the Obama campaign to frame him and his message in a way he was never really able to overcome.

4. The Romney campaign absolutely did play it safe down the stretch. After the Denver debate you heard virtually nothing about the disgraceful and incompetent conduct of the the president and his administration relating to the Benghazi consulate attack. You heard no mention in Hispanic media circles of the President’s failure to both pass comprehensive immigration reform during the first year of his administration (something he promised them in the 2008 campaign) and his administration’s culpability in the Fast and Furious scandal that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent Mexicans. These were valid issues to push hard against President Obama during the debates and in the media; why the Romney campaign chose not to give as good as they had been getting from the Obama campaign all along will always be a mystery.

5. The Romney campaign was short on specifics from the start. Campaign 101 dictates that if you’re going to defeat a sitting president you have to give people a reason for changing horses in midstream. My hope was that naming Paul Ryan as his choice for VP the Romney campaign would use him as the “policy wonk” who would lead the charge on specifics, but somehow that never happened. If you’re going to say you’re replacing Obamacare on your first day in office or address the entitlement crises coming down the road, you better provide voters with specific actions to back that so have confidence that you know what you’re doing. A message of “well, I fixed comnpanies before, I can fix this country’s mess” was a poorly-devised concept.

In short, while Hanson is certainly correct to the extent he goes, the underlying fact is that the Romney campaign simply didn’t want the presidency bad enough. The Obama campaign, steeped in Chicago-style “gangster politics” pounded away at Romney with a series of outrageous lies and overhyped rhetoric because they knew the mainstream media, deeply committed to Obama’s relection from the start, would never counter them. In that vacuum it was left to the Romney campaign to push back even harder than the Obama campaign was giving, and that’s something they never did. Too many voters were eithere left to choose the devil they knew versus the one they didn’t, or weren’t passionate enough or committed enough to Romney to bother to vote for him, and on both counts the Romney campaign just didn’t get the job done.

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 08:14 | Comments Off on 2012 Election Post-Mortem
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