And here’s the big problem for Romney. When a candidate doesn’t seem to stand for anything, when he doesn’t seem to be motivated by big ideas or a cause, that invites voters to speculate about what really motivates him. In John Kerry’s case, for example, a lot of voters concluded (correctly) that he was motivated by preening personal vanity.
In Romney’s case, his ideological emptiness left him open to the Obama campaign’s attack ads portraying him as a predatory “vulture capitalist” who was campaigning to represent the interests of the rich at the expense of the common man. Of course this is a leftist fantasy and an exercise in character assassination. And of course it was foolish and shortsighted for “low information” voters to let themselves be manipulated by a smear campaign rather than thinking through the issues independently. But what made this possible, what opened the window, was the fact that Romney did not clearly stand for anything.
This ties together all of the different threads of the election. This is why it wasn’t about abortion or immigration or any of these side issues (regardless of the merits of reforming the Republican position on those issues). It wasn’t about the positions Romney took, but about the positions he didn’t take. It wasn’t about a high-tech turnout operation by the Obama campaign. It was about all of the potential Romney supporters who didn’t turn out because he didn’t give them enough reason to do so. He was the man who wasn’t there.