Explaining Romney's Loss
Hunter Baker, Associate Dean of Arts & Science
Nov 16, 2012
Mitt Romney ran an excellent campaign. I congratualte him in the hard work of leadership rather than living it up no some island paradise. He is an American hero.
However, he was the wrong person to run in a year when the single greatest challenge Republicans could make to the president rested on the repeal of Obamacare. Anti-Obamacare sentiment was enough to elect Scott Brown in Massachusetts when voters thought it might stop the legislation. It might well have been enough to put the right Republican over the top nationwide.
But Mitt Romney could not make a convincing case against Obama’s law when it so closely resembled his own work in Massachusetts. His federalism distinction was technically accurate, but it made little sense to the typical voter.
We may also have learned something about Americans and religion. Romney underperformed McCain in terms of votes. That is astonishing. President Obama’s support practically collapsed, as he brought in many fewer votes than in 2008. Had Romney been able to build on McCain’s overall base, he might have won the popular vote and possibly the White House.
I can think of a few theories to explain Romney’s underperformance in total votes. One is that many conservatives refused to vote for a moderate Northeastern former governor who was the prime catalyst for a huge government health plan in his state.
Second, Romney’s ticket didn’t have Sarah Palin. She was a polarizing figure, but she had big crowds in 2008. The third theory is less attractive. Many Republican voters may have refused to support a member of the Mormon faith.
Republicans must crack the code of appealing to minorities. They lost African Americans, as usual. But the GOP also performed terribly with Hispanics and —to my surprise —with Asian Americans. Somehow, Republicans have ended up on the wrong side of some kind of us vs. them notion regarding race that is totally unjustified, but apparently has some currency of perception.
This issue may have to become the top priority, because it is by far the best way to change the electoral math. The party needs a Manhattan Project for breaking down the racial barriers. It is amazing that the party that brought an end to slavery struggles so.
Finally (and related to the prior point), it seems that George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” has been the recipient of too much vitriol. In this race, Romney did not have a rhetorical or programmatic shield to protect him from the usual charge of Republican unconcern for ordinary Americans and minority Americans.
Bush’s campaign was able to argue effectively for the role of civil society in addressing the problems of those who fall behind. In Britain, David Cameron argued from similar premises with his Big Society (as opposed to Big Government) and became prime minister.
Back in Bush’s first term, I can recall NPR liberals complaining about the compelling nature of the conservative social-science arguments on the ability of marriage and family to blunt social pathologies, increase economic mobility, and break cycles of poverty. I didn’t hear many of those arguments this time around. I think it is time to revisit them.
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 16 edition of The Jackson Sun