In the aftermath of establishment Republican Mitt Romney’s defeat in the 2012 presidential election, Governor Romney said he lost because he couldn’t overcome the effect of Obama’s “gifts” to key demographics; student loan modifications for young voters and amnesty for young and predominantly Hispanic illegal aliens.
We think Romney missed the mark with that analysis because conservative ideas have successfully countered the Democrats’ attempts to bribe voters in the past. However, the comment is a good place for conservatives to start analyzing the failures of the Romney campaign – and learning from the successes of the Obama campaign.
Here are our top 10 reasons Romney lost and Obama won – starting with five top reasons Romney lost.
Romney lost because he failed to nationalize the election and present a starkly contrasting conservative world view to Obama’s radical liberalism. During the campaign we criticized Governor Romney for playing “small ball” and not nationalizing the election. By nationalizing the election we mean presenting a stark contrast between conservative and liberal world views – the freedom, personal responsibility and traditional values of conservatives versus the state control, government dependency and radical secular humanism of liberals.
We can’t repeat this point often enough; Republicans never, ever win national elections unless they nationalize the election and include the conservative agenda – especially the conservative social agenda – in their campaign. Doing so isn’t a guarantee of success, but failing to do so is a guarantee of defeat.
Unfortunately, that advice fell on deaf ears and you couldn’t find conservative ideology anywhere in the Romney campaign, the establishment GOP’s national advertising or even from Karl Rove’s much vaunted Super PACs. Romney managed to eventually say all the right things to conservatives during the primaries, but he didn’t “run” or “campaign” on them in the general election.
Romney lost because he ran as a technocrat, not as a conservative. Making the welfare state more efficient is not exactly a compelling conservative vision of the future, or even a credible one given the recent Washington Republican record on spending, earmarks and pork. When Tea Party candidates stood for a constitutionally limited government in opposition to liberal candidates whose policies led to economic stagnation and suffocating government regulation being imposed upon this country by President Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress – overwhelmingly the voters chose the Tea Party candidates.
The Romney campaign and their allies in the establishment Republican Party rejected that proven model for political success, and instead ran a content-free campaign selling Mitt Romney the technocrat.
Romney lost because he and his establishment Republican allies distanced themselves from and alienated the Tea Party. In 2010, a fourth leg was added to the three legs of the Reagan coalition – the small government constitutional conservatives of the Tea Party Movement. As a result of adding this fourth leg to their existing coalition of economic, national defense and social conservatives, the GOP was swept back into control of the House of Representatives, brought within striking distance of a Senate majority, and a re-energized Republican Party elected thousands of down-ballot candidates.
Unfortunately, unlike the wise Party leaders who built the Reagan coalition -- men such as Nevada Senator Paul Laxalt, Lyn Nofziger, Dick Allen, Ed Meese, Marty Anderson, and Judge William Clark -- instead of solidifying the four legs of the new coalition, in 2012 Mitt Romney distanced himself from the Tea Party and did his best to alienate and marginalize the adherents of the new conservative voting bloc of the Tea Party Movement.
Romney lost because he wasn’t in the fight on many issues and failed to establish his own narrative on Obama’s radical secular liberal agenda. You are always going to lose a fight you’re not in. Obama and the Democrats threw down the gauntlet on the social issues -- such as same-sex marriage and abortion – and created a phony "war on women" revolving around rape, contraceptives and abortion. Romney never established his own narrative on these issues, or even fought back, and consequently an attack unanswered is an attack believed.
Romney and his establishment Republican allies ran away from such issues as same-sex marriage, religious freedom and Obama’s war on the Catholic Church. You couldn’t find any mention of the Constitution or the conservative social agenda in a Romney ad or in a Rove-run Super PAC ad or an ad run by the national GOP.
The “stand for nothing” strategy didn’t work for President Ford’s 1976 campaign, it didn’t work for President George H.W. Bush’s re-election and it certainly didn’t work for Bob Dole and John McCain. Governor Romney won the nomination by spending tens of millions of dollars knee-capping his conservative opponents in the primaries and then handed the election to Obama because he and his campaign team spent most of the campaign mired in the establishment Republican folly of trying to win by standing for nothing.
Romney lost because he failed to understand and effectively use the new and alternative media to get-out-the-vote and deliver a conservative message to voters who only get their information through online media. Romney’s ORCA get-out-the-vote technology was spectacularly bad and may have cost him the election in Ohio, Florida and Virginia, but that wasn’t Romney’s only online failure.
Romney’s team was stuck in the 20th century TV “air war” campaign mindset. They failed to grasp that the most dramatic change in the media environment, ever, has been the rise of digital media and social networking sites. The Romney team failed to craft conservative messages that would appeal to voters who use these sites – especially young voters.
This failure by itself may account for much of Romney’s deficit with young voters; among adults younger than age 30, according to a Pew study, as many saw news on a social networking site (33%) as saw any television news (34%), and just 13% read a newspaper in print or digital form.
Conservatives long ago recognized the power of the new and alternative media. Ron Paul and the various elements of the Tea Party Movement have built vast networks of voters connected by online communications and social media. However, at every phase of the campaign, Mitt Romney's digital operation was behind the tech savvy Obama team. By alienating Paul supporters and the Tea Party Movement, Romney missed the opportunity to tap into their established networks and connect digitally with those millions of conservative voters.
Tomorrow we will explore the reasons why Obama won and what conservatives can learn from the success of the Obama campaign.