Streams

Opinion: Romney Lost Because of Execution, Not Demographics

Thursday, November 08, 2012 - 04:10 PM

Ohio voters listen to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a town hall in Bowling Green, Ohio, on July 17, 2012. (J.D. Pooley/Getty)

Apoplectic explanations abound since the election was called to give Barack Obama his second term. Among the most repeated I've come across so far is how triumphant Democrats, and some in the media, are making this out to be a watershed tipping point moment, when demographics point to an electoral sea of blue as far as the eye can see.

We've seen this dog and pony show before. After Bush's election in 2000, many Republicans said much the same, as did Democrats in 2008. Both were proven wrong just a few years later, as they were based on horribly flawed (il)logic.

While the electoral vote tally might make it seem otherwise, a roughly 50,000 vote flip in Ohio, 50,000 vote flip in Virginia and 25,000 vote flip in Florida is all it would have taken for Romney to win the general election. This was no resounding victory, as many in the media are labelling it as. It was razor thin, as most predicted it would be. Dozens of articles over the last couple days list dozens of variables that could have flipped the election in Ohio, Virginia and Florida - which would have delivered the electoral college for Romney.

Like every election, turnout was a big factor. Barack Obama has proven himself uniquely capable at turning out African-American and youth voters, which is not something you could say about those who are most likely to be at the lead of the Democratic ticket in 2016. Republican pollsters and pundits mistakenly assumed that turnout levels would return closer to where they were in 2004, but assuming that they'll stay where they have been the last two presidential elections is a giant assumption.

Beyond this, Obama won big with Hispanics, but the gap wouldn't have been so huge had Mitt Romney not played so far right on immigration during the primary, which he didn't have to do, and/or has he picked the charismatic Latino Florida Senator Marco Rubio. That would have delivered Florida into his camp for sure, and would have made a difference in Ohio and Virginia to some degree.

Another VP option was US Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who may well have been able to flip the 1 percent necessary for Romney to win there. With Portman, Rubio, or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the Romney campaign wouldn't have had Paul Ryan's horribly unpopular Medicare plan hanging around its neck, which alone might have made for a half percent bump - possibly more.

Just like George W. Bush's campaigns in 2000 and 2004 were misconstrued, much of the hot air about Obama's wins can be attributed to good old solid execution, both in their overall strategy and in their ground game. There were some soft spots, like how Obama and company seemed to avoid talking about a second term agenda like the plague, but overall they did much better than Mitt and company. They were able to better downplay Obama's sub-par (in the eyes of a majority of voters) first four years in office, and play up Romney's perceived weaknesses more effectively.

Demographic shifts are something the Republicans should worry about in the not-so-distant future, but it wasn't what decided this race. Poor decision making by Romney and other Republicans is what sunk them.

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Comments [7]

The problem with the Romney Campaign was two-fold: the message, and the messenger.

The message was a referendum on Obama “we can’t have four more years like the last four” a rephrasing of Reagan, “Are you better off today than four years ago?” People recalled that Obama took office the economy was losing 800,000 jobs month, there was a banking crisis, a housing crisis, an auto industry crisis, a War in Iraq, a War in Afghanistan, Ben Laden on the loose, taxes had been cut to the bone, the deficit was higher than ever, and the economy was staring down at another Great Depression. People recognized this and rewarded Obama and rejected Romney’s plan which sounded in most ways like a return to the Bush years.

The messenger himself was flawed. Obama did not suppress the vote. There never was enthusiasm for Romney. Recall the primaries where every other candidate that came forward: Kane, Bachmann, Trump, Perry, Gingrich, Santorum was greeted as the next champion only to falter in the debates, or the primaries (due their even greater flaws) leaving Romney the last man standing. Romney never had an approval rating of greater than 40% with his own party. Also the smear on Romney that he was rich and out of touch was perpetrated initially by his primary opponents, Tea Party members, social Conservatives suspicious of a Mormon, hard line Conservatives suspicious of a Governor of Massachusetts, and their supporters like Adelman. Only after every other possible alternative was gone did these folks reluctantly support him.

You like the GOP have short memories. Be warned “those who forget the mistakes of history are bound to repeat them.”

Nov. 11 2012 10:39 PM
Jack

Solomon,

1. I'm not "trolling" you so kindly cease this canard. I'm criticizing your analysis and ridiculing the philosophy behind it.

2. "I wish I had a dollar for every time some liberal said I made a "false equivilence", when I hadn't made an equivilence in the first place."

Do you even read what you write? Here's what you said:

"After Bush's election in 2000, many Republicans said much the same, as did Democrats in 2008. Both were proven wrong[...]"

No they weren't 'both' proven wrong, because the 2010 election, like all midterm elections *aren't really like a general election* at all. This is what I'm talking about, Solomon, you're just haphazardly forcing unrelated nonsense into your grand thesis that both sides are stupid, and in the process, you fashion these BS false equivalences that most people miss but those paying attention know are complete crap. Stop trying to falsely balance everything to fit your weak narrative.

Look at the damn map of 2008, and this year's: Obama won Virginia and Florida twice, something Bill Clinton, aided by Ross Perot, couldn't even do in his electoral blowouts of Republicans.

There ARE demographic trends afoot, and they're not limited to racial and ethnic changes. As Southern states become more cosmopolitan and less rural, they trend bluer. More-liberal northerners have also moved south to traditionally red sunbelt states, altering the political equation there. Obama NARROWLY missed winning North Carolina again. Why?

Obama's team had a strategy based on reality: the playing field was in their favor, and thus held many paths to victory. Romney, by contrast, didn't recognize this, and squandered precious resources on states he really had no shot in, namely Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In wasting time and money there, he ended up losing Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, three critical states he absolutely needed, and possibly could have won. So how can 'execution' be the problem when the coach is calling the wrong damn plays? Romney was throwing for the endzone when he should've been trying to pick up a first down because he didn't even know where he was on the field.

He outspent Obama 3:1 in Pennsylvania to lose it by 5+ and he failed to outspend Obama in Ohio. He actually spent *more* in Pennsylvania than he did in Ohio -- a state that was must-win for him.

3. Who did you end up voting for?

Nov. 09 2012 12:11 PM

@JDBrooklyn - Your comment expands well on what I said about execution near the end:

"...the President's strategy worked in 2 ways. First, it stopped people from coming out to vote for Romney and 2, it means that while people did not give him (the President) their vote, they simultaneously decided NOT to reward Romney with their vote."

@Sheldon - I really don't think Romney had to play so far to the right on immigration. He went to the right of other candidates in the GOP primary that were percieved as more right wing that he was by just about everyone.

You're probably right about Romney's pivot timing.

"The big question to my mind is why the Republican base keeps moving further and further to the right, to the point that a political like Romney is unable to survive his own primary without compromising himself for the general."

They keep moving farther and farther right because the Tea Party segment has all but pushed out the moderates, they make the most noise, and they vote in high numbers in primaries. They've driven out millions and millions of moderates from the party rank and file, and almost all of the moderates in Congress.

This sort of thing snowballs, since they gain power at the expense of the other, and the more Tea Partiers gain power in the party, the less the few moderates hanging on feel welcome. I talk to RINOs all of the time that are in this situation... most of them have already quit the party and gone independent. This is why there is now a disconnect between how independents overall lean (right a bit) and how centrists lean (more toward the dems, since the GOP is farther off the deep end).

@Jack - Everyone's favorite troll :)

"How can execution be the problem when the candidate's gameplan SUCKS, and the candidate himself is lackluster? What amount of nebulous "execution" would have done it, Solomon? How do you get performance out of volunteers that aren't excited and don't show up?"

Polling showed that there was plenty of excitement on the GOP side, and as I said at the end, the Romney campaign made a slew of poor decisions, of which I named a few.

& you know as well as I do that I wouldn't touch a job with someone like Romney w/ a ten foot poll (or w/ someone like Obama with an eight foot poll, heh).

I wish I had a dollar for every time some liberal said I made a "false equivilence", when I hadn't made an equivilence in the first place.

You're right on the math. I edited down the post from something longer that had some other states in there that would have flipped with a < or = 3 point flip, to just the three big ones, was in a rush before going to work and didnt fully edit it and redo the math. Good catch.

Nov. 09 2012 03:08 AM
Jack

Oh, in addition to political analysis, math isn't your strong suit either -- even if Romney had won all three of Ohio, Virginia, and Florida, he STILL would have lost the Electoral College. So your "execution" excuse holds even less water. Basically your argument boils down to "if only Romney had won 5 of 8 swing states instead of losing losing 7 of 8, he'd be president!"

Seriously, stop writing about politics. You're becoming the Dean Chambers of centrism.

Nov. 09 2012 02:02 AM
Jack

Shorter Kleinsmith: all it would have taken is Mitt Romney winning the three most crucial swing states that both he and Obama dedicated 80% of their resources to, yet he lost all three, because... he didn't select both Portman and Rubio to be his co-running mates.

How can execution be the problem when the candidate's gameplan SUCKS, and the candidate himself is lackluster? What amount of nebulous "execution" would have done it, Solomon? How do you get performance out of volunteers that aren't excited and don't show up?

Team Obama executes because their guy *actually inspires them.* He's an extraordinary leader, which has far-reaching effects throughout the campaign and electorate. It starts with the candidate, and Mitt Romney was a bad one. No amount of precision "execution" was going to change that.

And Democrats weren't proven wrong in 2010, either. Quit shoehorning false equivalences into your bullshit thesis. Midterm elections are highly different from quadrennial general elections, and this shows up in the demographics and turnout. Democrats are right to feel good about demographic trends, but the bottom line is, as I've said before, it's the candidate, stupid. And yes, by stupid, I mean you. After all, you voted third party.

So, rather than reflect on the significance of Obama's reelection, you basically say Romney would have won had he only hired you to run his campaign. Hilarious.

Nov. 09 2012 01:08 AM
Sheldon Rampton from Portage, WI

This is a good column overall, but I think it misses a couple of things. First, Kleinsmith says "the gap wouldn't have been so huge had Mitt Romney not played so far right on immigration during the primary." That statement is true in and of itself, but it misses the fact that Romney HAD to play far right on immigration -- and on a number of other issues as well -- to win the primary and shore up his Republican base. The whole narrative during the primary involved a series of other Republican challengers running to the right of Romney, and Romney tacking further to the right to outflank them. He did that on health care, women's issues, taxes, military spending and foreign policy. He picked Ryan as his running mate because he needed to prove his conservative bona fides to the Republican base.

Subsequently, of course, Romney tried to do the "etch a sketch" thing and reclaim the center. By some standards, he did that pretty effectively. There were pundits a couple of weeks ago writing that it was brilliant of him to patiently wait until the first presidential debate before pulling his pivot. It caught the Obama campaign by surprise a bit and gave him a temporary boost in the polls.

The big question to my mind is why the Republican base keeps moving further and further to the right, to the point that a political like Romney is unable to survive his own primary without compromising himself for the general.

Nov. 08 2012 06:27 PM
JDBrooklyn from NYC

I said before the election that the President and challenger were running two different campaigns. The challenger's campaign was "vote for me, and here is why...". The President's campaign was simple: "Don't vote for Mitt Romney." Plain and simple. He believed his road to victory was to stop people from voting for Mitt Romney. It worked.

The President received 10mm less votes in this election, but Mitt Romney got 3 million less votes than John McCain!! That means there were 13 million less voters. As best I can tell, there is not one state that would have gone to Romney had he matched McCain's vote totals in that state 4 years earlier. That means the President's strategy worked in 2 ways. First, it stopped people from coming out to vote for Romney and 2, it means that while people did not give him (the President) their vote, they simultaneously decided NOT to reward Romney with their vote. The President did not earn their re-election vote, but he stopped them from giving their vote to Mitt instead. With his core voters in place, and having turned out, that strategy worked, and for that reason, he is President again.

Nov. 08 2012 04:55 PM

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