Talking to Wisconsin reporters just days after his and Mitt Romney’s loss, Rep. Paul Ryan talked about what it felt like when the returns came in, and he realized they would lose. Ryan called it a “foreign experience,” and said President Obama “won fair and square,” and “we congratulated him for that win.”
He also gave Obama credit for his turnout operation, saying Team Romney was caught off guard by how well it worked.
“We knew this was a close race. We thought we had a very good chance of winning it. I think the surprise was some of the turnout, some of the turnout especially in urban areas, which definitely gave President Obama the big margin to win this race,” he told WISC-TV reporter Jessica Arp. “There’s always an electoral college strategy in winning these things…when we watched Virginia and Ohio coming in, and coming in as tight as they were and then looking like we were gonna lose them, that’s when it became pretty clear to us we weren’t going to win.”
Asked if the voters rejected the Republican vision, Ryan said of the president: “Well, he got turnout. The president should get credit for achieving record-breaking turnout numbers from urban areas for the most part, and that did win the election for him.
“It’s clear we have a country that is divided among a number of issues. We thought that the best thing for the country is to get ahead of our fiscal problems. We offered specific solutions. It didn’t go our way. So obviously we’re disappointed by that. We’re not going to be able to fix this country’s fiscal problems along the way I thought we should have. Whether people intended it or not, we’ve got divided government.”
“The numbers we were looking at looked like we stood a pretty good chance of winning. So, when the numbers came in, going the other direction. When we saw the turnout that was occurring in urban areas that were unprecedented, it did come as a bit of a shock. So, those are the toughest losses to have — the ones that catch you by surprise.”
James Hohmann of Politico was first to cry foul, followed by Jonathan Martin of Politico. Wisconsin media was more charitable in its read of Ryan.
Tone deaf Paul Ryan pins blame on “urban areas” for loss, never mind landslide in Fairfax, sizable deficits in non-urban parts of WI, IA
— jmartpolitico (@jmartpolitico) November 13, 2012
He later tweeted the link to the story with the quote.
By noonish it was a NYT piece: “Ryan Surprised by voters in ‘urban areas'”
The remarks prompted scorn from some liberals who viewed Mr. Ryan as blaming inner-city minorities for the Republican defeat.
“Paul Ryan emerged from dustbin of nothingness 2 blame his & Romney’s defeat on “urban” vote,” one person tweeted. “These 2 losers continue 2 demean minorities.”
Another tweeted that “Urban vote” = minorities. Paul Ryan is saying he lost because minorities actually went out and voted. SHOCKER. MINORITIES HAVE RIGHTS, TOO.”
Several people pointed out that Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan also lost some largely rural states with few minorities, like New Hampshire and Iowa. Those losses cannot be explained away by focusing on urban voters, they noted.
That’s true about the rural vote and rural states, but it doesn’t make his point about turnout in cities untrue or insensitive. He was giving a mini-diagnosis, which mentioned states where the GOP ticket had problems throughout cities, suburbs, and suffered a drop-off in rural voters. And, as a conservative who comments on politics in public, let me share this massive irony with you. The day after the election, I hesitated to mention (but did) the missing white, rural vote in Ohio or suburban losses in Virginia on TV because, even though I thought they were relevant, for fear someone would accuse me of racism for unfairly slighting turnout in urban areas!
It truly was remarkable, even to some on the left, and it has been the focus of a huge part of post-election coverage. Nor does urban have to be a euphemism for minority voters. As publications such as Politico note in “The GOP’s big city problem,” the party has problems attracting minority, young, single, voters who live in urban areas. It was those voters whom Obama, without the benefit of ’08’s magic, did the operationally heavy lift of changing from sporadic voters into reliable voters. As nearly every media outlet has told us in the last week, GOP polling underestimated that turnout and was therefore surprised by the result, which is what Ryan said.
“Why Romney Lost,” also in Politico, points out that Team Ryan was surprised by turnout among black voters, which it didn’t expect to be as high as 2008, and chides Republicans operatives “for arguing the demographic point is being overplayed, both by the press and by Romneyland — that the problem was a flawed strategy and, more important, a weak candidate who ran against an incumbent who was personally popular.”
The truth is there were and are many problems. Team Romney and the GOP shouldn’t credit Obama’s impressive analytics and turnout for the win without admitting their own failings, nor should they use demographic shifts as an excuse for losses instead of communicating to new constituencies. But the idea that Ryan repeating the conventional wisdom of the last six days is a racial offense is ridiculous. (Below, please peruse the results of a quick search on this subject among noted non-racist outlets and analysts.)
Ryan is the one who reportedly wanted to make appearances in inner cities to make a pitch for conservative policies on poverty and urban issues. Could it be that he’s echoing the media’s emphasis on demographic shifts because he thinks that’s where the party needs work? Even though Romney failed in turning out parts of white, rural America, there aren’t many who think just fixing that is a strategy for winning future national elections. I’m pretty sure no one really thinks Ryan’s dog-whistling four years in advance to perfect that strategy, yet that’s the implication.
But here’s the larger point and it’s a daunting one. This is the perfect symbol of how much work conservatives must do and how hard it will be to do it. Despite accusations to the contrary, I think it’s fair to say I’ve lived most of my life in something akin to the opposite of a conservative bubble— I never knew more than a handful of conservatives until I visited The Heritage Foundation in 2004. Sometimes it feels deeply unfair to be considered a bad person simply because you happen to differ with someone on the relative expenditures of the federal government, but it doesn’t change that the problem exists. Many people conservatives need to reach and want to help have a dim, sometimes deserved, view of our side and what it has to offer them. And, whether or not it’s fair in every instance, we have to give people a reason to believe differently with smart people, smart politics, smart messaging, and near flawless execution.
Conservatives often talk about talking past the media and taking our message directly to the people. Mitt Romney’s finest moment came Oct. 3 when he did just that. We now have a chance to do that with slightly more than half the country, door to door, many of them in urban centers and predisposed to disagree with us. Earning the right to be heard will not be easy, but we have to start.
The New Republic‘s Nate Cohn:
Across the entire lowland south, Obama won a larger share of the vote than he did in 2008. Not only did Obama perform better among black voters than in ’08, but Obama’s gains were sufficient to overwhelm losses among white voters. Obama even matched and exceeded his performance in many black counties in North Carolina and Virginia, where one would have suspected that Obama would have already maximized black turnout and support. In 11 predominantly black counties in southeastern Virginia, turnout increased and Obama won more votes than he did in 2008. Obama’s margin of victory in Ohio was almost entirely attributable to historic levels of black turnout in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Toledo.
From the New York Times, “Record Latino vote, strongly backing Obama”
The Miami Herald: “Obama won Hispanics by a larger margin than he did in 2008 in Florida, exit polls showed, even though he did worse overall. But Republicans did far worse than they did in 2010, when they captured super-majorities in the Legislature and won the governor’s office and every state Cabinet post.”
The L.A. Times: “The GOP’s demographic problem”