[C]ould the Romney campaign have done more to make their guy likable when it counted?
I’ve heard a few theories on this from people who either covered the campaign from the outside or were close with those who ran it from the inside. The most widespread explanation is that the campaign made a deliberate decision to limit the resources spent selling Romney-the-man. The thinking was that they couldn’t beat the president on likability in any event, and were better served by selling Romney, to paraphrase Ramesh Ponnuru, as a robot programmed to create jobs. A second, less obvious but perhaps more intriguing, theory is that leading with an account of Romney’s good deeds would have entailed delving deeply into the weeds of Mormonism (because, for example, much of Romney’s personal kindnesses came in his capacity as a church leader, and much of his charitable donations came in the form of tithing) and that this would have opened a whole new can of invertebrates that the campaign wasn’t eager to deal with.
One or both may well be true, and, combined with Romney’s apparent constitutional incapability to pat himself on the back for being a decent human being, they may have made the cuddlization of Romney a dubious strategy. But it isn’t as if the campaign worked to keep the stories secret. It did what it could, in convention testimonials, in YouTube ads, and in the mouths of surrogates (not least Paul Ryan in the nationally televised VP debate, though his boosterism was lost in the vice president’s Nicholsonesque cackling), to spread the word. But it was not preponderating.
The messy aftermath of his failure suggests that Romney, a political amalgam with no natural constituency beyond the business community, is unlikely to play a significant role in rebuilding his party, many Republicans said this week.
“He’s not going to be running for anything in the future,” said Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho), who sharply criticized Romney’s comments about Hispanics. “He’s not our standard-bearer, unfortunately.”
Romney adviser Stuart Stevens strongly disagreed, calling Romney “the most popular Republican on the national scene at the moment,” given the votes he received on Election Day. Views of defeated candidates can change dramatically over time, Stevens added.
“Even those who have been critical of the campaign on our side realize in the end that Governor Romney was resonating with millions of Americans and was running the kind of campaign we could all be proud of,” Stevens said.
In the countless hours I spent in Romney’s presence during his first White House run (and mostly from a greater distance during his second bid), I saw a man who was preternaturally upbeat, well-meaning, and kind to just about everyone he encountered, friends and strangers alike.
But I also saw a candidate who seemed by nature almost uniquely ill-equipped to appeal to the young and minority voters who ended up playing a key role in his electoral demise.
Members of the press who traveled with Romney in 2007 and early 2008 began slowly to pick up on what would become an established media narrative by the time Romney was the 2012 front-runner: The former Massachusetts governor didn’t just have a difficult time relating to young and minority voters, he often came across as a walking-talking time warp from the 1950s…
Romney’s overall argument was that he would make the economy better for everyone. But he steadfastly refused to take the next step and make his case on a narrower level, convincing critical demographic groups that he would specifically improve their lives and their communities.
Romney is being erased with record speed from his party’s books for three reasons. First, many Republicans backed him because they thought he had a good chance of winning; that appeal, obviously, is gone. Second, Romney had shallow roots, and few friends, in the national Republican Party. And those shallow roots have allowed Republicans to give him a new role: As a sort of bad partisan bank, freighted with all the generational positions and postures that they are looking to dump.
“Romney is now a toxic asset to unload,” the historian Jack Bohrer remarked Saturday. “The only interesting thing left to his story is how they dispose of him.”…
There is an irony that Romney, the moderate, will be forced to carry off Todd Akin’s baggage on reproductive rights; Joe Arpaio’s on immigration; and James Dobson on gay rights. But when he cast popular policies as “gifts” to Obama voters (ignoring both his and Obama’s expensive promises to older voters), his decision to, as Bobby Jindal put it, “insult” the demographic groups who are a larger part of each successive electorate offered the Republicans the pivot they had been looking for toward presenting a younger, more diverse, and more inclusive party.
“If we want people to like us, we have to like them first. And you don’t start to like people by insulting them and saying their votes were bought,” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, told the “Fox News Sunday” program…
Jindal said: “We need to make it very clear – we’re not the party trying to protect the rich. They can protect themselves. We are the party that wants growth, pro-growth policies.”
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association, also called for a more inclusive message from Republicans…
“We have to show that we are serious about reaching out and helping everyone, not just a group here, not just a group there,” Walker added.
In 2008, Republicans again preached the gospel of Rove and his allies—Ed Gillespie, Dana Perino, and basically everyone tied to American Crossroads. They told us that only John McCain could defeat this amateur, Barack Obama. Obama was too liberal for the electorate, they said. He had too much baggage. The country liked the Bush administration’s approach more than the “biased” polls let on. McCain was a perfect nominee because he was not an ideologue. (At one point after his loss to Bush in 2000, McCain even flirted with being a Democrat.) This guy was back and forth on so many issues that nobody was ever certain where he might land. That made him an ideal candidate to reach out to moderates and independents. Say, any of that sound familiar?
In 2012, these same people came back again, as overconfident and unchastened as ever. This time, they had most of the right-wing media on their side, regurgitating their views and attitudes to the exclusion of all others. Mitt Romney was the perfect candidate to stop Obama—so much so that anyone who got in his way was immediately attacked and marginalized. Rove used his perch as an “analyst” on Fox News to personally attack not only Newt Gingrich (who I worked for), but Herman Cain, and Sarah Palin, and Rick Perry, and Jon Huntsman, and on and on. So what if Mitt Romney once berated the Republican Party, the Reagan administration, pro-lifers, and the religious right—in other words, his own party’s base. Republicans needed him to win…
When I worked with Rove briefly at the White House, I found him to be a smart, energetic, capable man. Maybe more than I even realized. In the past two election cycles, he and his acolytes have personally helped Barack Obama get elected and yet made millions in the process. You tell me who the dummy is—Rove or the people who keep listening to him and funding him. Come to think of it, who really deserves the blame for what’s befallen the GOP?
What unites all of these stories is the growing failure of America’s local associations — civic, familial, religious — to foster stability, encourage solidarity and make mobility possible.
This is a crisis that the Republican Party often badly misunderstands, casting Democratic-leaning voters as lazy moochers or spoiled children seeking “gifts” (as a certain former Republican presidential nominee would have it) rather than recognizing the reality of their economic struggles.
But if conservatives don’t acknowledge the crisis’s economic component, liberalism often seems indifferent to its deeper social roots. The progressive bias toward the capital-F Future, the old left-wing suspicion of faith and domesticity, the fact that Democrats have benefited politically from these trends — all of this makes it easy for liberals to just celebrate the emerging America, to minimize the costs of disrupted families and hollowed-out communities, and to treat the places where Americans have traditionally found solidarity outside the state (like the churches threatened by the Obama White House’s contraceptive mandate) as irritants or threats.
This is a great flaw in the liberal vision, because whatever role government plays in prosperity, transfer payments are not a sufficient foundation for middle-class success.
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