In short: yes. The 2012 Presidential Election was one that will be remembered for a long time. Rather than rant on and on and on, I’d figure I’d hit the key points, and avoid over-talking; with that in mind, here we go:
- Obama took a page in the election from the most unlikely source: President George W. Bush. In 2004, Bush won on a culture campaign, emphasizing polarizing social issues over economic ones. In 2012, the Democratic Party, led by President Obama, took the culture wars straight to the teeth of the GOP, providing a more open and moderate perspective on social issues, such as endorsing marriage equality, and even though coy on it, condoning abortion in cases of race or incest. Obama’s stances on these issues, coupled with statements made by the GOP in the spring, rallied young voters who didn’t want Romney in office because his views contrasted with theirs so strongly. What we learned: if you register voters on an issue, and rally them on specific points and issues, not only will they vote, but vote for you.
- Romney was a bad candidate because he was governor of Massachusetts, but couldn’t talk about it for fear of alienating the far GOP right. He was the CEO of Bain Capital, but couldn’t talk about it without losing the American workers’ vote and the political center. Ultimately, Obama could run on his entire record, all the way back to law school, as well as his record with straight-ticket Democrats. What we learned: beyond a formal vetting by the party, primary voters also need to know who they’re voting for; also, a candidate can either be a conservative, moderate-conservative, or a moderate, not all of the above; pandering is looked down upon.
- The long-standing American pro-protestant bias is all but erased. Unlike Al Smith in 1928 and JFK in 1960 (two Catholics attacked for their religious preference), Romney (a mormon) and Paul Ryan (a Catholic) did not have to answer for their faiths, but merely discuss what it meant to them. This didn’t help them much, but for Chris Christie, who will be in position to mount a strong campaign in 2016, it paves away the last residual doubt about his Catholicism. What we learned: American Protestantism no longer holds total sway in American presidential politics; also, as with Al Smith in 1928 did for JFK in 1960, the next major Mormon to run for President will not the first, thus clearing hurdles for that person
- The Obama campaign won a majority of American voters by appealing to specific demographics, and by stating strong and specific policies that would affect them and their daily lives. While this may seem cynical (picking off groups and appealing to each separately), anyone who says it’s not fair or un-American does not know American history. What we learned: smart strategies win elections; dumb ones don’t.
- Romney not only failed to appeal to key groups, but also failed to connect with the common man. Many of his comments regarding how he knew NASCAR team owners (a far cry from being a NASCAR fan), his house with the car elevator, his wife Ann’s Olympic race horse (partially funded by taxpayer dollars by the way), and his son’s post-debate comment about wanting to punch the President all depicted him as being out of touch and arrogant, and depicted his family as being similar, which turned off moderate voters. What we learned: although the idea of electing who you’d like to have a beer with idea is not always in force, a candidate needs to have more in common with the average American than just being the same species.
- When Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast, and New Jersey in particular, President Obama looked presidential, working with whoever was necessary to alleviate the suffering and bring assistance. Romney, who had talked about privatizing FEMA, as well as reeling from discussions about his veto of an assistance bill whilst Governor of Massachusetts, had to deal with the crisis. Worse for him, when big supporter Chris Christie showed public appreciation for Obama’s handling of the crisis, sources within the Romney campaign suggested that Christie would “regret” such showings of support. What we learned: in times of crisis, even during elections, you put politics aside; had Romney endorsed Christie’s bipartisanship efforts, he could have nullified the effect it had on Obama. Also: control your leaks when there’s less than a week left until Election Day. Additionally: had Romney stated that he “regretted” his FEMA comments, it would not have looked as bad a flip flop with the center, to whom he could have spun it as “learning and adapting.”
- The Romney campaign, on Election Day, contested against the major news networks that had Obama winning Ohio, and thus the election. Karl Rove made such a scene at Fox News that they actually sent Megan Kelly back to talk it out with their analysts. If you think the two are linked, you’re probably right; given how much money Rove and his partners put into the election and others (over $300M, not counting Adelson, the Koch Bros., and others), Rove probably didn’t want to concede defeat. We have since learned that the Romney campaign thought they had the election in the bag going into Election Day, and was stunned when they lost. What we learned: (a) news analysts who projected state-by-state victories are paid a lot for their abilities. Ohio was projected at that point for a string of reasons, which both CNN’s John King and the Fox News analysts stated, using nearly identical language, and if that didn’t prove the point to the Romney campaign, then whoever kept contesting it really was delusional. (b) Elections are not decided by campaigns or money, but by voters, and the American electorate has a tendency to not do what is expected. You know the Obama campaign was writing up both a concession and a victory speech, whilst Romney made the event far worse by not having a concession speech ready and fighting the analysts, only staining his defeat further.
- As stated above, Obama won key groups; Romney won white males, long the major group needed to win elections. The Romney campaign lost such groups because of its own statements and that of the GOP platform, which were anti-women, anti-immigration, attacked people on food stamps, and although vague on it, not friendly to young voters with student loans. A friend of mine put it quite elegantly: welfare is an easy target; food stamps, not so much. What we learned: whites are no longer the huge electoral power they once were; and pandering to them can make you lose an election. Also: remember that those who are not so fortunate are not necessarily lazy or working the system; some of them genuinely need assistance.
- Finally, pick your running mate according to your own principles. Obama picked Joe Biden in 2008 to sustain the liberal vote, as well as to counter the discussion about his lack of experience. McCain picked Palin to win independents and narrow the gender gap. Obama kept Biden not only to keep the liberals in the loop, but presumably for the good of the party. Romney, meanwhile, who in his attacks on the President stated that only someone with business experience should run for President, picked a vice-presidential nominee who had none of it. Paul Ryan was a tea party darling, and far conservative, and Ayn Rand fanatic, who had limited, if any, private sector experience. It was a desperate move to shore up GOP support, and although Romney gained traction later on, it wasn’t because of Ryan. What we learned: pick your VP based on your own previously stated principles. Also: pick your VP from a state you legitimately need and can get. Wisconsin was a swing state, but the pro-union buzz going on at the time gave Obama an edge anyway. Finally: never pick a Congressman, unless they are, or have been, the Speaker of the House. Governors can boast executive experience, and senators have a broader appeal to their states than a congressman does.
So, there we have it: the important points we should take from the election, which as of this writing is nearly two weeks ago.