Mitt Romney took the stage Tuesday night to concede that he had lost his race for president. He came on stage alone, with no family in teary-eyed support. He stood with manliness and grace, and said all the right things. He had called the President and wished him well. He told the crowd that he gave it his all. “We left everything on the field, and gave it our best.” It was his finest hour.
But where was this Mitt Romney throughout the presidential campaign? When his campaign began, his message was simple. “I’m a businessman. I know how to create jobs. I’ve done it in the private sector and I can do it for America.” His rhetoric resonated with millions of Americans, and he surged into an early lead in the polls. He was an outsider, who had been successful in the private sector, and with the economy in turmoil, he offered hope for a better way. His message was simple, concise, and hit home to many who were suffering financially.
But then he failed to learn an important lesson. Football teams that win in November develop a set game plan in spring training. They don’t change it. In an effort to pander to the far right during the early primaries, Romney got off message. His campaign became cold and cynical. His focus was almost entirely on being against the president, rather than being for just about anything.
He jumped on the auto bailouts saying the funds injected into the auto industry were unnecessary, and that GM should just go bankrupt. This looked contradictory and two-faced when he chose Ryan as his vice president, who had voted for the auto bailouts. This ended up costing him Ohio and Wisconsin. He left his winning issue and waded into political quicksand by posturing on Medicare, Social Security, foreign policy and way too many social issues.
In 1992, the Ragin’ Cajun, James Carville, kept Bill Clinton focused on one issue with, “It’s the economy, stupid.” For Mitt Romney, THE Issue should have been job creation, more job creation… and nothing more.
I met Mitt Romney in New York last spring when he had all but sewed up the Republican nomination. He looked you directly in the eye, had a firm handshake and warm smile, and just looked presidential. When he found out I was from Louisiana, he rattled off a list of Louisiana friends we had in common, commented about my home state’s good food and great restaurants, and you would have thought he was raised down here in the Bayou State. Then the talk turned to the campaign. And it was all about jobs.
But then his Republican competitors and the far right wing of the party boxed Romney in. He became saddled with the baggage of social issues. He was running with a crowd that looked backward and campaigned on fear. Fear of change. Fear of immigrants. Fear of gays. Fear of the future. To have any chance of getting the nomination, Romney had to “go with the flow.” There’s an old adage in politics that even a well-meaning politician votes their conscience 90% of the time, and their politics 10% of the time, so that they can be there to vote their conscience 90% of the time. For Romney during the primaries, it was more like 60/40.
Paul Ryan ended up being a poor choice for vice president. His plans were really not all that radical, but he had not built a bipartisan consensus of support. His economic message scared many voters, particularly his idea to privatize social security and scale back on Medicare. He was out on the limb alone, and he frightened many older voters in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida. Ryan couldn’t even carry his own home state of Wisconsin. He became dead weight.
Romney lost big. And Republicans should not be surprised. The GOP has become more and more the party of old white guys. Across the board, Obama surged in non-white, male categories. He received 93% of black voters, 71% of Latinos, won young voters by 34%, unmarried women by 67% and carried women overall by 55/44%. Republicans were watching “Madmen,” while Democrats were tuned to “Modern Family.”
If Republicans were not able to get even 40% of the vote in California, the state that gave birth to the political future of Ronald Reagan, then they are not going to be the party of the future. The GOP has now lost 5 of the last 6 elections with the popular vote. The base has to be dramatically enlarged, particularly in the Hispanic community, if Republicans hope to stay competitive nationally. The fastest growing dynamic in numerous states, including Georgia and my home state of Louisiana, is Hispanic. Texas is projected to have a Hispanic majority by the year 2030.
The President still has a hatful of problems. Second terms do not often bode well for incumbents. There were stumbles by LBJ, (Viet Nam) Richard Nixon (Watergate), and Ronald Reagan (Iran Contra). But for now, he’s the winner. His party had his back. They supplied the base on which his victory was built.
Mitt Romney wasn’t as fortunate. The infrastructure of the GOP was crumbling when he finally got the nomination. The hundreds as of millions of campaign fund dollars made little difference. All he had to be was a job creator. But his party betrayed him and pushed him away from a winning strategy. He is a good guy and could have been president. But nobody had his back.