Learning from Loss: summing up defeat

So last time around a discussion of the problems associated with the Romney campaign’s GOTV highlighted some of the array of problems that held the candidate back. In an election that came down to four swing states – Virginia, Florida, Colorado, and Ohio – all swinging to President Obama by a combined 380,000 votes out of roughly 10 million votes cast, it’s easy to pin the blame in a narrow loss on not knocking on enough doors, on relying too much on technology and phone calls that everyone ignores.

But was this decisive. What else contributed to Romney’s defeat and Obama’s victory?

My thoughts as to the factors here are threefold:

  • The volume of unanswered negative campaigning, particularly in the doldrums;
  • The GOTV effort; and
  • The candidate himself.
  • Silence in the Doldrums
    In discussing what Mitt Romney needed to do in the Presidential debates, this blog discussed the fact that the debates represented an end to “the doldrums”, a period running from the day Mitt Romney’s nomination was assured, roughly in April, until the first debate in October, with a brief interruption for the RNC. In this time, with Romney running on fumes due to campaign rules while hoarding cash for the General Election, a continual message was put forth by OfA, it’s surrogates, and a pliant media:

    Mitt Romney is not one of you.

    Mitt Romney is too rich to understand your daily concerns.

    Mitt Romney will outsource your very existence to Asia.

    Mitt Romney will place an iron curtain between you and your birth control, with no Checkpoint Charlie.

    These messages were supported, through not with Mitt’s support, by the controversy around Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s words. These and other minutiae were used to paint Republicans as a whole as out of touch with portions of the electorate.
    And it worked. Looking at exit polling data, these actions in the doldrums were effective. In spite of an inferior economy, 69 percent of voters had made up their mind prior to the first debate, with those favoring the President 53-46. That’s a virtually insurmountable lead in retrospect. While the first debate (in early October, reflective of decisions in September in the exit polls) reversed this trend, it was for a thin slice of the electorate. The subsequent debates split evenly, while the second doldrums (after the last debate) again led to more out-of-touch discussion (Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s comments mirroring Todd Akin’s, along with a steady diet of Big Bird, binders full of women, and bayonets.
    While these were easily ignored by those of us used to the media’s noise machine, the average voter, especially those limited to the legacy media, got an endless barrage of the message above. I watch so little live TV these days that commercials are easily skipped on the DVR; not all are able to avoid the echo chambers of the left.

    The last post discussed most of the issues here sufficiently. An exchange in the comments with the redoubtable Political Fireball helped me come up with a clarifying point: In an era where we can walk around with open access to data telling us where we are, it shouldn’t be hard to reconcile voter lists that show a street address as a city park (as Fireball noted) or a Post Office or an address which is less likely to fit a voter profile (like a restaurant). Similarly, the entities that use that same technology commercially to make commerce move (FedEx, UPS) serve as good exemplars for the way to use technology positively to support GOTV efforts. Knock Lists based on delivery routes aren’t that complicated.


    The Candidate
    The primary season showed both the weakness and the strength of Mitt Romney as a candidate. The weaknesses weren’t going away as the result of winning the primary season. Too many conservative leaning voters, or voters seeking a true conservative – forsaking victory for political purity, or presuming that there was no difference between the candidates – stayed home on Election Day. That’s a function of both of the prior metrics, but also of Mitt Romney the Candidate. and that’s been baked into the pie, so to speak, at least since 2008.

    Where to from here?
    First, I’m going to take a short break from politics. A really short one, to refresh my senses.

    Second, I’m going to get more active in politics when I do get back in it. I’ll look for a role locally, helping direct the future of the Party, and of the conservative movement. There are far too many lessons learned to have them lost to time.

    I suggest the same for all of you.


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