11.09.2012 0

A short Romney campaign autopsy

Mitt RomneyBy Rick Manning — My prediction of a Romney win was not only wrong, but as everyone knows, it wasn’t even close.

In fact, the exact opposite occurred than what I expected.  Rather than being a drag on the ticket, Obama was able to sweep into a second term as the Romney campaign’s strategy of doing nothing to upset the voters failed miserably.

My analysis did not anticipate that Romney would get fewer votes than John McCain received in 2008, and would manage to lose even though Obama drew around 10 million fewer votes than four years ago.

And that is the real untold story of this election — with an increased population, twelve million fewer Americans voted in 2012 than in 2008.  If Romney had merely gotten a few more votes than McCain, his victory would be in the midst of being celebrated today.

While some analysts are attempting to equate Obama’s victory to ethnic voters, one has to wonder if these analysts have ever been to Iowa or New Hampshire, both of which voted for Obama, and neither of which has a non-white population worth mentioning.

So, forensic political scientists will be sniffing through the data over the next few months to try to determine who these twelve million no shows were, and why they bailed out on the process.  It could be that the old axiom that negative campaigns drive down voter turnout was proven once again.  It also could be that young voters who couldn’t wait to vote for Obama bailed out, but couldn’t bring themselves to support Romney.  Or it just could be that a combination of voters impacted by Hurricane Sandy combined with these other factors to account for the depressed turnout.

In the meantime, we will wonder how Romney managed to lose a campaign that was seemingly impossible to lose, and it is here where I enter dangerous ground.  The dichotomy is that people want to know what went wrong or right immediately after a campaign, but analysis is flawed at best when it comes in the wake of the rawness of a political campaign.  So, my observations, while heavily edited, are more raw reactions without weeks of research that might lead me to other conclusions.

One thing seems clear above all else.  Having learned the lesson from the media that he was only to speak when spoken to after Romney commented after the Benghazi attack, the Romney campaign went into a shell after the first debate.  His risk averse, rope a dope campaign was designed to avoid mistakes, manage everything, and ride the wave home to victory.

Only a strange thing happened, and it wasn’t Hurricane Sandy.  A full month passed, and Obama, through aggressive ads, was able to reinforce the narrative about Romney being an unlikeable guy who was dangerous.  This was exactly the theme that they spent tens of millions of dollars to establish through a summer of uncontested attack pieces.

While anecdotes always have to be viewed with caution, I recall that in August, I was stuck waiting for service to be done on my car.  The waiting room television was on the Kelly Ripa show, which has a largely female audience.  In that one hour period, Obama ran eight commercials alternately attacking Romney and pumping up Obama.  The issues featured, and the messengers in the ads, were for a female audience.  Not one Romney ad ran during that time period.

With this set up, in the month that passed between the first debate and the election, people forgot the Mitt who seemed presidential and had a plan for the future who they met in the first debate, and instead were reminded of how much they shouldn’t like him through reinforcing advertising.

Romney’s campaign made a fateful decision based upon voter turnout assumptions they believed to be accurate.  They decided to not take any new chances, and coast to victory doing little beyond promising the public that Romney would get along with Democrats.  This caused many, like my wife, to wonder, “We already have a president who gets along with Democrats, that’s how we got into this mess in the first place.”

While I’m confident that the Republican political intelligentsia who brought us Romney in the first place will blame everything from the evangelical right, to the Chris Christie make out session with Obama, the truth is, the Romney campaign had all the money in the world, and the establishment had their hand-chosen candidate.  And they still couldn’t beat John McCain’s vote totals.

And that is the story of 2012.  Billions of dollars spent without much of an effect.  Thirty years ago, I went to Mexico and tried to explain to my tour guide what a political consultant did.  After hearing about all the campaign spending, he replied, “why don’t they just give the money to the farmers?”

Today, I’m wondering the same thing.

Rick Manning (@rmanning957) is the communications director of Americans for Limited Government.

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