As one who writes about everything political, one of the downsides of living in a state that is utterly unimportant from the Electoral College perspective is the fact that you’re insulated from much of the advertising campaigns that ravaged the battleground states. (From the perspective of a normal person however, that would likely be a blessing…)
I had friends who complained about not being able to get through an evening meal without getting robocalls. Others told of more campaign commercials than actual programming. I on the other hand saw one Barack Obama commercial during a nationally televised football game on Sunday and two Mitt Romney commercials the week before. Other than that, nada, the entire campaign.
That insulation from the billion dollar barrage skewed my perspective, at least as it relates to how the rest of the country was seeing this election. As a result, my prediction that Mitt Romney was going to win by double digits was… slightly off. I suggested that the polls were far from accurate for a variety of reasons from race to enthusiasm to undecided voters. By 8 PM on Tuesday it became clear I was lucky I had not bet my house on my prediction. I was wrong on every single point.
So how did I and so many others get it so wrong?
Maybe it was believing the hype about the effectiveness of the big dollars that drove the advertising I never saw. Romney did spend a lot, but it was money poorly spent. Why? Because he and his supporters outspent the Obama team across the board: In Ohio $97 million went to support Mitt while $90 went to support Barack Obama. In Virginia the numbers were $73 million vs. $65 million while in Florida they were $100 million vs. $78 million. And what did he get for all of that? Nothing. He needed those states and he lost all three.
Maybe it was ground game. This is art of getting your supporters to the polls but it’s often hard to see beforehand. And it’s particularly important in union stronghold states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Nevada, states Romney thought he would or at least could win. In all four Romney exceeded McCain’s 2008 totals, while the president underperformed his. It wasn’t enough. In a year where the enthusiasm gap was widely expected to favor the challenger the GOP failed in the closest thing to basic blocking and tackling, getting supporters to the polls.
Then there was Hurricane Sandy. As expected, turnout was down in reliably blue New York and New Jersey. The real impact, unforeseen by me however, was far beyond the storm. It was in the rest of the country where they were reading about it. Sandy did three things. One, she stunted Romney’s ascent and took him off the front page. Two, she kicked Benghazi to the back burner. Three, she gave the media a much desired backdrop upon which to project a very presidential Barack Obama.
These combined to help Mitt Romney lose the presidency. They do not however explain the surprise. That was something all together different: Enthusiasm. I for one expected GOP enthusiasm to be off the charts. It wasn’t. After four years of Barack Obama’s socialist policies one would have expected conservatives, Tea Party types, libertarians and Republicans to head to the polling stations with pitchforks and torches and ready to throw out anyone dressed in blue. Surprisingly, they did not. Indeed, Romney was not even able to get the same number of votes McCain did. Romney received two million fewer votes, despite having the worst economic recovery in a century and four years of progressivism against which to campaign.
At the end of the day, Mitt Romney lost because he did not sufficiently articulate why Americans should go out and vote for him. He is a good and decent man and he attracted 49% of the vote. But elections are about winning. A nation doesn’t need a manager who says “Vote for me because I’ll do a better job than that guy”, it needs a leader who says “Vote for me because I’ll do this and I won’t do that”. Barack Obama left Christopher Stevens as a sitting duck and in the end he and three other Americans died. Americans barely heard a peep about that from Mitt Romney. Barack Obama and Eric Holder have the blood of hundreds of Mexicans and at least one American Border Patrol agent on their hands; again, crickets from Mitt Romney.
Millions of illegal immigrants cross into the country each year and Mitt Romney talked about “self deportation”. Obamacare is destroying jobs while the IRS is arming to enforce its mandates and Mitt Romney equivocated. The tax code costs Americans half a trillion dollars a year and restrains the creation of millions of jobs and Mitt Romney promises to fiddle with some opaque “middle class tax cuts”.
In 1964 Barry Goldwater said “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice”. In 2012 that was not a problem. Today’s adage might be “Milquetoast in the defense of liberty is no defense at all”. At a moment in time when Americans needed a man to arouse them and lead them out of the thickening forest of liberalism they instead got a man who wanted to discuss how to prune some low hanging branches. It should have been no surprise they chose to stick with Johnny Appleseed.