I’ve heard plenty of possible explanations for Romney’s loss last night. Most of them center on failure to win a greater share of votes across the demographics of people who voted, but not an explanation for what actually went wrong.
I discount the demographics and ideological extremism argument for the simple reason that the House became more Republican, not less, while Republicans lost the Presidency and failed to regain control of the Senate. That means people who came out to vote split their ballots. They voted Democrat for President and the Senate to some extent, but Republican for their representative in the House by and large. This is different than how they voted in 2008 when they generally voted straight tickets. There are many reasons why someone might vote this way, but it doesn’t appear to me to be related to ideology or agendas; except in the more personalized sense regarding House representation. I think personalities played a large role in the result of the election instead.
Taking a look at some of the Republican Senate candidates who lost can be illustrative of this point. Both Mourdock and Akin made career-killing gaffes. Some of other candidates were not superior candidates, either too young, or just not the same caliper of candidate as a sitting Senator. Senators are tough guys to pick off simply because of the power they wield. There is a saying about Senators, “They usually go out in handcuffs or a pine box, rarely by the ballot box.” That is an exaggeration, but it seems more generally true than false.
So if ballot-splitting happened to a much larger extent than usual, what did go wrong? I can’t say for sure, but my guess is that Romney was just a tough sell. Rasmussen published data over the summer indicating that 60% blame GW Bush for the economic crisis. Almost as many said that the recession was so severe it will take years to recover. They didn’t blame Obama for either the cause or slow cure. This is interesting because exit polls indicate that by large margins they blame Bush for the cause, but Obama for the slow recovery. In exit polling, the economy was the largest issue, unemployment was the largest economic concern, and more than 50% said that they were the same or worse off since 2008; yet many of those with this concern voted for Obama while at the same time blaming him for the slow recovery. This is quite telling about the kind of salesman Romney needed to be. He might have convinced voters that Obama failed, but he didn’t convince them he could help them or they didn’t believe that he could.
To inject even more speculation into this analysis, my guess would be that Romney had two or three main problems. His first problem is the 47% comment and the shrill tone toward people who are receiving or have received public assistance as a result of economic hardship. Many people either have been or know someone who has been impacted by the economic crisis and don’t view that as a problem of entitlement mentality. Second, he was the wrong nominee after general public acceptance of the narrative that bankers and Wall Street people crashed the economy; and he did nothing to address that sort of guilt by association. The third problem is that he ran a poor campaign. He tried to sell himself as a decent person in the sense of compassion. He spent a considerable amount of time on this and very little on educating voters on why his agenda was better – and this is where demographics hurt him. Younger voters have never heard the basis of Reaganism, which I think Romney took largely for granted as accepted. And it isn’t accepted after people have had drummed into them that unfettered capitalism caused the Great Recession. He needed to change their opinion on that and he failed.
PS: I don’t buy the identity politics meme; so please do not tell me that Republicans need to appeal more to this group or that. It might work on some people, but I have a hard time believing most people vote that way. I consider it as a mass insult to the intelligence of individuals, and am highly annoyed by the suggestion. If it were true, it would mean I am a self-hater as I am a very cosmopolitan, classical liberal, Republican woman. I see the fallacies involved in what we term “modern liberal” rhetoric, and reject them entirely.