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Mitt Romney lost the presidency first and foremost because of Mitt Romney. He was a weak candidate facing a weak incumbent. These things made him weaker:
1. Ideological vacuity. That is, he believes not much of anything. People sense that nothingness and it makes them uncomfortable. They’re more likely to go with someone who believes something, even if they disagree with it, than an empty vessel.
2. The Suit: Mitt Romney represented the worst archetype for the times--the distant, technocratic CEO. Do I believe that Mitt is cold and uncaring? No. It doesn’t matter what I believe, though. What blue collar people in the Rust Belt saw was a guy who didn’t care for the little guy and who only cared for the bottom line. I wrote about this when the Republicans in the party were crying “class warfare!” because I’m from Michigan and know the mindset. The Suit was the worst sort of leader for these troubled times. Romney didn’t even speak the language of these people. He could never be trusted and couldn’t connect.
3. Alienating Hispanics. I know no one on my side wants to hear about this, but having lived in Texas for fifteen years now and having seen the ethnic and cultural shift, I know Republicans are getting this terribly wrong. Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney demagogued the issue using increasingly hyperbolic rhetoric -- “double walls!”, “razor wire!”, “sharks in the Rio Grande” -- rather than being sober and serious. Am I suggesting huge amnesty? No. I am suggesting that the Hispanic population is winnable, or was, and now the GOP has boxed itself into a corner policywise. And the GOP base needs to grow up: in-state tuition for children who’ve grown up in America is a no-brainer. We want an educated electorate. And the GOP should lead on opening more legal immigration. Instead, screeching. Screeching resulted in Mitt receiving 21% of the Hispanic vote. George W. Bush received 40%.
The Republican Party, with the Tea Party’s help, swept into the House majority in 2010, but the Republican Party has not yet remade itself from the wilderness Bush years and it’s a process that is still happening.
Our U.S. Senate candidates revealed this weakness. Old guard candidates like George Allen, Tommy Thompson, Connie Mack and Todd Akin are artifacts from a bygone Republican era.
Tea Party candidates like Richard Mourdock and some who lost in primaries were not fully fleshed out or experienced enough to handle the intense scrutiny and press animosity. And the Tea Party candidates did not get the support of the establishment Republicans. Richard Lugar and his bitter GOP guard actively worked against Mourdock and supported a liberal Democrat who is hardly reflective of Indiana values.
Ted Cruz, the first Hispanic to win a U.S. Senate seat in Texas, is a notable exception to all this. Cruz had plenty of time to develop. And Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and Governor Rick Perry, Dewhurst’s staunch defender, helped Cruz by jumping in and supporting him right away.
The Republican Party will need to spend some time reordering itself. Really, this should have happened after 2008 but didn’t. The bailout, stimulus and then the coup de grace, Obamacare, galvanized the party into opposing the Democrats, but not really building, proactively, a new vision. The Republicans need a new vision.
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House races went well. And Republican Governors, unafraid to take on tough issues, have done well, too. Even traditional blue states like Michigan, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Ohio have Republican governors seeking to bring fiscal responsibility. Many are pro-life and know how to communicate inclusively. Many see the immigration problem and seek humane, but concrete solutions.
A note on President Barack Obama’s campaign: He ran a tactically perfect campaign. However, he, like Romney, ran a small campaign.
Deeply distressing is the abandoning of the blue collar worker. Deeply distressing is the seeming nonchalance about the new, possibly permanent, underclass. Deeply distressing is the seeming disinterest in our foreign affairs.
The President faces monumental foreign policy and fiscal challenges and there’s really no way out of them. How will he handle them? We don’t know. He didn’t really say.
This was a disappointing election season focusing on small things. It’s almost as if everyone is not quite ready to acknowledge the task before us. We have a president who majors in the minors and has been willing, so far, to not take on the tough issues.
Hopefully, the cycle of denial changes. I’m not optimistic, though. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If that’s the case, then it looks like tough decisions will be kicked down the road for the next couple of years. Problem is, we don’t have a couple years to waste.
Meanwhile, Republicans have time in the wilderness to figure things out. Let’s hope they learn the right lessons.