Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Romney Lost: What Now?

The National Review's editor Rich Lowery doesn't see much of a silver lining anywhere in last Tuesday's defeat:
But there are no comforting augurs for Republicans in President Barack Obama’s victory. It was crushing and ominous, and it’s pointless to try to deny it. Republicans are comforting themselves with a few arguments, none of which are persuasive.
I don't disagree with him: when one of the best arguments put forth is that Obama will now have to "own his mess" that's  kinda admitting that for whatever reason (Bush / Perception of Bush) this year, despite the GOP's best efforts, he didn't have to. And if Iran somehow doesn't get a bomb? Or they try and the US Military curb-stomps them? Well, there goes the national security argument for the Republicans for the next decade.

I want to look at a few more things--specifically my take on "what happened." These are in a kind of order but not necessarily in greatest impact-order. Let's also look at "What didn't happen." That's equally important.

1. No Excuses: It Wasn't The Storm, It Wasn't (Exactly) Romney
One of the more persuasive arguments was that Romney was, basically, a weak candidate and that hard-to-beat incumbents usually do draw weak candidates. After all, if the deck is stacked against you in 2012, why not wait until 2016 and run against whichever Democrat manages to claw their way to the top of the crab-basket? What if it's Biden (and, hey, I could lose some weight between now and then too, amirite? And people will have forgotten about my walk on the beach with Obama*)?

There are two problems with this thinking. The first and most stark is this: On paper no one in the GOP line-up--not Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, or Marco Rubio--looks stronger on paper than Rick Perry did. That's right: Rick Perry who was not ready for prime-time for whatever reason (back surgery--but while that's plausible, I've only swallowed the hook on it--the line and sinker remain to be seen) there is no guarantee that any of these guys will do better.

The second problem with this is that while those three are top-tier candidates none of them are guaranteed any slam-dunk against Hillary. She has already proved herself a formidable candidate on the national stage and will benefit from a historic candidacy that only, maybe, Rubio can match.

It's also clear that the storm didn't cause Romney to lose. It didn't blunt his "momentum"--that was, mathematically--gone by the second debate and he never led in the math. He came close at times to being an almost-contender but he was losing the whole time just by varying degrees. Ask Nate Sliver. So don't tell yourself black swan events sunk him.

2. Someone Has To Go--Who Gets Thrown Out Of The Tent?
Ace of Spades puts up some polls: What would you dump? Here are the results:
Let's Get Rid Of Abortion! Or, No--Let's Not--WAIT!?
Hold Fast On Taxes!
These results are not especially encouraging. For one thing the Democrats are not especially vulnerable on gun control. Sure, we all know they want to eviscerate the 2nd Amendment--but going hard on gun rights isn't going to win any new electoral votes. Unless the Dems do come out with some super-gun-grab those votes are baked in and no one on the left is touching them. Holding on Taxes and Spending is good--but it's a fight the Democrats have gotten canny on (remember the Pay Roll Tax Holiday? Remember how popular raising taxes on millionaires is?). So this set doesn't look like a route to victory.

More like a "rout to victory" when you kick out the so-cons for the libertarians. And then what if you wind up running Gary Johnson in 2016!?

3. What About Voter Suppression?
There has been much made of the fact that (a) it was minority turn-out that really cost the election. Blacks and Hispanics, we knew about--but Asians voted overwhelmingly against Romney too. It's also clear that (b) women--especially, mostly, young unmarried women, were part of the Obama coalition. This is a driver behind the dump-the-Abortion-plank but it's also a source of anger for a lot of posters who feel that Obama pandered to women with his Julia ad and the whole birth-control / war-on-women thing.

And if another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue. The college-age daughters of many of my friends voted for Obama because they were completely turned off by Neanderthal comments like the suggestion of “legitimate rape.
There is no "War on Women," you say--but the problem is you don't get to say that. Women voters do--and it appears that, yeah, there's some of that going around. Just read some of the comments from conservative blogs about women voters. To be sure these are jokes. Just jokes. Just joking.

Can't You Take A Joke??

Then, again, here's Buzzfeed with some maps about who would have won based on various stages of voting laws:

Map 1: 1850
White Men Only. Maybe They Have A Point?
Go For It.
4. So What Actually Happened?
This needs a much longer post to detail but I'm going to sketch the outlines here. This is what I think happened to the GOP this year.

  1. Start with Michael Steele Who Engineered the Primary. The Republican primary process was intentionally drawn out to produce the kind of media attention and infrastructure building that Hillary / Obama saw in 2008. It had the reverse effect. It was expensive, it made everyone look like clowns, and it was a Tea Party feeding frenzy. Rince Priebus said he was pleased with it. Let's see if anything changes next time, huh? Hint: Rince lied his ass of.
  2. About That Tea Party Thing: The Tea Party is powerful in primaries. They are hard-core, they turn out, and they are far right. Romney adopted all kinds of build-a-wall, jettison Planned Parenthood, Overturn Roe-v-Wade positions that, in a better world he could simply have not talked about. Much is made of the MSM using George Stephanopoulos to "inject" contraception into the debate. This ignores the fact that Santorm injected contraception being controlled by the states into the debates because he can't keep his trap shut about social issues. When one of your candidates (the guy who came in second, for crying out loud) says stupid, provocative things ... what do you expect to happen? Until something is done about this, candidates that survive the GOP primary are necessarily going to have to etch-a-sketch and while Romney did it expertly, he had to do it late.
  3. The 47% Thing: I know you're going to say that it didn't seem to have that much mathematical impact. Maybe--maybe not. The Bain attacks did seem to (look at PEC's graphs) but the word is that Romney's internals showed him crashing when that tape came out. The problem wasn't the tape. It wasn't the security failure. The problem is the basic theory is part of the core GOP philosophy and Romney did not misspeak when he articulated it. The GOP base does see things in maker-vs-take perspective and they wanted someone to call out the takers on entitlement reform. We can't afford you takers! Off the island you go! The problem is that (a) it is quite objectively wrong (b) it is a clumsy strawman of Obama's actual message which means that when put forth and examined it (c) makes the GOP look like assholes. Top job, guys.
  4. Etch-A-Sketch: By the time Romney came out of the primaries he was terribly, fatally damaged. He had not quite yet consolidated the base and the GOP was in high-torq spin-control / poll-denial as he careened towards his first debate. His foreign adventure was not the debacle the media made it out to be but it was also not the tough and triumphant excursion that Obama had. Romney's foot-in-mouth approach to the early Benghazi release was simply bad strategy. By the first debate, arguably, Romney had lost. Then, in a flash of brilliance, we saw the candidate he could have been and wanted to be.
  5. Republican Suckers: Romney was electric, Reagan-esque. Andrew Sullivan almost pitched himself out a window. Democrats cried into their coffee. The money flowed in. Almost no one on the right cared that Romney has chucked the platform he ran on overboard: NOW HE MIGHT WIN!! The Benghazi scandal broke ope and it looked like he might surge. He'd also picked Ryan which, despite the Conventional Wisdom, wasn't hurting him in Florida. Hell, if you just unskewed the polls a little bit, Romney was kicking ass. So big money donors gave huge sums to Super PACs and they got fleeced one and all. Ads that didn't move the dial aired in power-rotation. Obama quietly overwhelmed Romney with increased efficiency and operated 100 more field offices in Ohio than Romney did. They said they were okay with that--it wasn't their strategy. Airtight.
  6. ORCA Disaster. The Republican strategy was, apparently, to use a GOTV never-before-tried software system called ORCA to manage their ground troops. It was a disaster. Now, I have a lot of experience with software launches and having something that only gets a chance to really operate once is a tall order. I'll refrain from kicking Romney too hard while he's down on this but problematically it ought to have had more behind it.
  7. Team Obama's GOTV Did NOT Fail: Obama managed to use nano-targeted communication and massive efficient infrastructure to turn out a D+6 electorate composed of enough white people to win and enough single-issue or low-propensity-to-vote people to swamp Romney. A lot of these were minorities and immigration voters. Many were voting based on social issues around abortion and women's health care. Some were voting around gay rights (especially the young).

So to sum up?

  • The GOP base has a slew of losing positions (note: depending on how these are articulated they might not be such losers--but the jury's still out on that--the GOP's high profile candidates don't seem to have any kind of expertise in making these sound good). These were exploitable by Team Obama to motivate voters who might not otherwise vote to get a D+6 turn-out.
  • The GOP Primary exposed these issues and put Romney on the map squarely on the right. As he was moderate enough to get the majority of the GOP votes this created a candidate who stood for exactly nothing and blatantly so. Team Obama hardened this with early spending in summer attack ads.
  • Romney managed a single titanic performance where we got to see what he'd have been like without the primary and the Tea Party and he came as close to victory as he ever did.
  • The Republican's ability to capitalize on this was a disaster in terms of both efficiency and execution.
  • Obama did not fail: his strategy and team performed almost flawlessly.

There you have it.

* This line of thinking could, of course, apply to any potential GOP candidate. Right?

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