What happened to Romney-Ryan 2012? Seriously, they had so many things going for them. The economy was not great, and although it made strides in October and early November, it was too little, too late. The Affordable Care Act was a hot button issue that should have rallied the base to the polls in record numbers. Congress had been ineffective, which usually reflects negatively on the president. President Obama did enough liberal acts for Republicans to cast him as a staunch liberal (or if you were a Tea Partier, a socialist).
What was it? Romney lost in so many states by such small margins that you can’t help but think that the Obama campaign just out-campaigned them in the those key battleground states. There is, however, more to this.
For starters, I wonder if Romney’s refusal to release the ten year’s worth of tax returns wouldn’t have so big had the tradition not started with his father; even Republicans were shocked by his refusal to budge, and Paul Ryan, forced to go along with it, followed suit. The refusal, coupled with other aspects of his personality, made him seem out of touch with the common man.
A lot of people will argue his Mormonism detracted from his appeal, not aided by the fact that Paul Ryan is a Catholic, meaning neither was a Protestant (the largest religious faction in the United States). I don’t. The Republican base went to extreme lengths to make Romney’s religion a non-factor, and in my opinion, they succeeded. Where his faith came into play was his accessibility; the cloak of secrecy that has remained around the Mormon Church (or to be proper: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) affected Romney in that he can talk about his faith and what it means to him, but not too much regarding the faith itself. Whereas Obama, Biden, or Ryan have a religious preference that can be investigated in terms of its tenets, beliefs, and structure, the Mormon Church’s veil does come into play with some people, not necessarily a lot, but some. Additionally, the Mormon prohibition on drinking cuts into the classic idea of electing “who you’d like to have a beer with,” which is a classic tenet of American politics.
Romney sought to appeal to independents, but let’s face it; there is a different between independents (who are often members of fringe parties on the extremes of the political spectrum) and moderates (who may be members of any party, but who review the issues and don’t necessarily straight ticket with their party). Romney won the independents, but lost the moderates, and as a result, lost the election. It is easy for a Republican in this cycle to pick up the ultra-conservative fringe, but Romney dug himself into such a hole there (and the Ryan pick only made it worse) that moderates sided with Obama, who at a minimum stuck to his talking points and his guns. The only issue that Obama really changed stances on was gay marriage, though the signs that would make the leap were present in 2008. Additionally for Romney, the only disillusioned liberals who voted for a liberal fringe candidate resided in non-swing states where Obama was set to win anyway, thus making it a non-issue.
I hesitate to blast Romney really hard for his flip-flopping, especially given his strong desire to win the election, and even I acknowledge that political views change over time, but I must. Contrasting with the President, who has stuck to his guns, but failed to live up to some of his promises, a majority of voters seemed to be unsure of which Romney they would get in the White House, one reason why Massachusetts, where Romney was governor, New Hampshire, which is a strong Republican foothold, and other swing states went to Obama. If you consider Massachusetts Romney’s home state, then he is the second candidate to lose his home state, after Al Gore in 2000, in recent memory. As if to add insult to injury, Paul Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin, a major battleground state, and one reason why Romney added Ryan to the ticket, also went blue.
The Ryan selection was a bad choice; I thought that Michelle Bachmann, who had no senatorial or executive experience, was a bad candidate when she tried to run for President earlier this year. Presidents do not come out of the House of Representatives, unless you have experience as Speaker of the House, which is one reason why Newt Gingrich scared me as a candidate; he had a solid track record from a position of real authority in the Federal government. For me, the same rules apply for the vice-presidential selection; Obama and McCain adhered to them in 2008 (Biden and Palin, respectively). Dick Cheney had a strong business and political background when he was nominated in 2000. Paul Ryan was not a great candidate; his star was rising, but it hadn’t raised enough. I had him listed as a GOP young gun, and fortunately for him, most of the blame, and rightly so, for the loss will go on Romney; unfortunately for him, part of the blame is his selection. He did do enough to work his way into the GOP inner circle, but will need to brush up on his policies and move more towards the political center before thinking about a Presidential run of his own.
The Obama campaign managed to outflank the Romney campaign when it came to youth, women, and minority voters, which surprisingly was enough to overcome the strong support from seniors that the Romney campaign received; those groups the Obama campaign rallied usually do not vote in such huge numbers, and there was concern the coalition from 2008 wouldn’t last; turns out the so-called “enthusiasm gap” was completely false, and Obama actually had the edge there. The Obama campaign registered one million new voters, and that’s not counting the affiliated voter registration operations that were active nationwide. Being fair, this is not solely the fault of the Romney campaign; while many Republicans were happy with their party’s platform this year, the seemingly extreme stances taken on it (no abortions for any reason whatsoever, fighting gay marriage at all costs, repealing the ACA) doubtless gave some people pause, and when I say some people, I mean the people who actually decide the election.
Perhaps the Romney campaign’s biggest fault, though, is that they misread the United States populace. Although whites are still a majority, they are decreasing in electoral influence, as the population proportions of Latinos and other minorities are increasing, and the Romney campaign seemed to be running as though the United States had not changed in the past decade. Newt Gingrich, appearing on CNN, stated the Republicans needed to be inclusive, and their failure to be in 2012 cost them the election. Instead of hammering President Obama for calling Sandra Fluke after Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut,” Romney should have called her the next day, and even if he did not agree that contraception should be readily available, he should have commended her for speaking out about her views. Instead of staying quiet on the issue of immigration, he should have matched Obama’s views, which would have brought the Latino population back into the toss-up category (including the swing state of New Mexico). Although difficult, he could have done a better job of trying to win over the African-American group, which would have included actively condemning the “voter fraud” measures many states tried to enact (and in most cases didn’t make a difference anyway). Finally, he could have won the youth vote: it was up for grabs before the GOP Primary; many young people were disillusioned with the President, and although most of them would have swung back to Obama anyway, some of them would have gone to Romney had he worked to appeal to them harder.
Romney’s 47% comments damaged him hard, especially since Obama referenced them, in devastating fashion, during one of the debates. The failure of Romney to actively fight back (he gave a token effort, but not much) seemed to reinforce this image of him as not caring, and those people he so readily condemned behind closed doors did not vote for him.
I have many times referenced the “some people.” Well, you know what; if you were a die hard GOP supporters, who was all set to vote for whoever came out of the primary season, or someone who was going to vote for Obama no matter what, then you are not in the “some people” category. The swing voters, the moderates, the people who really decide these elections, whose votes are worth more than water to a desert people, are the “some people,” who analysts rarely predict with accuracy. It was the success of the Obama campaign to win over them that put him over the top, and that ultimately was what the Romney campaign did wrong the worst.
However, don’t feel bad for either Romney or Ryan. Romney is still a board member at Bain Capital, still has his millions, and can still be a political commentator (and if he’s smart, not on Fox News). He has a devoted and loving family, and that’s something I have no doubt he truly is thankful for. Paul Ryan was re-elected to Congress, and will continue his political career, so there is no doubt that we will hear more from him in the coming years.