As the Goldwater debacle has been excised from history, so have the actual reasons why Dole, McCain and Romney all lost. Dole lost because the Bill Clinton he faced in 1996 was not the Clinton of 1993-94, but the Third Way Bill Clinton, who with the help of Dick Morris was triangulating his way between Newt Gingrich and congressional Democrats — the Bill Clinton who would sign the welfare reform bill and say the era of big government was over and gone.
Under the restraints exercised by the Republican Congress, the economy was beginning to hum, and we were still in our decade-long vacation from history. No incumbent producing peace and prosperity has ever been ousted by the opposition party, and Clinton was no exception. Reagan himself could not have won in these conditions, and he could not have won either were he running to succeed a president of his party when the economy collapsed six weeks before the election. When the markets collapsed, McCain was leading Obama, and his lead had been widening. Luck beat McCain, not ideology, and without this he might well have won.
As for “President” Romney, exit polls showed he carried the electorate on critical measures like values and leadership, and lost because he failed badly on one single measure: “cares about people like you.”
This suggests that he lost not because he needed to be more like Cruz, who gives not a clue that he cares about anyone, but more like compassionate conservative George W. Bush, who did very well with the Hispanics and the lower-middle-class white voters whom Romney so drastically lost.