Conservatives are distressed about the election results. We should be. It was a rough night.
We lost. And to prevent losing in the future, we have to address four areas where we have to improve: the candidate, the party machine, the message and America’s changing demographics.
• Candidate. I’ve supported Romney since 2006 — and I personally know him to be a fundamentally decent man whose business experience in turning around debt-ridden assets could have made him a great president. But no one considers Romney the perfect candidate.
When a disenchanted, unemployed Ohio voter has to choose between the incumbent who failed her and the guy with a car elevator who made his money through an instrument of finance that few understand, it’s not impossible to see why she stayed home. But money alone can’t account for Romney’s disconnect.
His problem was an unusual one: perfection. Having achieved serial successes in life, Romney proved an unsympathetic figure to mere mortals who face daily struggles.
• Machine. The Republican machine was broken. And the problems go beyond the well-reported failure on Project Orca, the Romney campaign’s election reporting tool. The campaign too often operated like a dysfunctional bureaucracy populated by opportunists led by an oligarchy skeptical of ideology.
Beyond Mormons, relatively few had a special stake in a Romney presidency, as opposed to simply a Republican one. Organizationally, the chain of command was sometimes difficult to discern. Many of these problems can be attributed to a bruising primary that ended in a rapid quintupling of staff — not to mention normal campaign shortfalls — and there were plenty of talented and dedicated folks on the trail. But by the end, many prayed for a Bain takeover.
• Message. Harping on the economy was not enough to get the GOP over the finish line. But our basic points were winning and were even stolen by the opposition. Barack Obama totally lacks credibility on energy exploration (see Keystone Pipeline) and debt reduction (see stimulus package), yet those agenda items were half of Obama’s closing argument.
Despite media claims to the contrary, Romney’s pro-life position was not extreme compared to the median voter. Immigration is thought to be the most hurtful platform plank, but Hispanics are not single-issue voters and Hispanic voters did not cost Romney Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, Virginia or even, arguably, Florida.
• Demographics. The first three items determine the fourth. There were a lot of missing voters from 2008, on both sides of the aisle, and the operating thesis of Republican pollsters on what demographics would constitute the electorate was wrong — not because of substantial shifts in the population, but due to the comparative qualities of the two campaigns. Victory is still achievable in the short term on the same coalition of yesteryear, but the GOP cannot ignore demographic changes.
Ultimately, all men are imperfect — and candidates’ imperfections prove even more glaring and obvious in loss. There were certainly mechanical failures — I saw them firsthand on the campaign. Whether you think the platform requires tinkering, overhaul or better messaging, we came up short. And the demographics of at least this particular electorate certainly cut against us.
Regardless of reason of loss, we’re unlikely to happen upon a single silver bullet in analysis, sometimes distraught and emotional, in the immediate wake of defeat. There is a beauty in our anarchic political system known as federalism — the GOP is not reliant on a central planner in the basement of the RNC to give us any power — and indeed, we have plenty of statehouses where we control operations, including Tennessee.
Local leaders from across the country are digesting the results and figuring out their own paths forward and there will be fights about our future direction. We will come up with solutions to win back and retain power — whether it’s with a better machine; or better candidates; or shifting/accommodating electoral demographics; or better messaging. Our job as conservatives is to ensure that power is worthwhile.