The biggest take-away I have from the November loss is that there was no one reason why Mitt Romney lost an incredibly winnable race. Rather than citing the numerous “death by thousand cuts” reasons Romney lost, what strikes me most is that enough of the public rejected the deeply tarnished Republican brand to re-elect a President who didn’t do a very good job in his first term. The messiness of Bush’s mis-handling of Iraq (before snatching victory from the jaws of defeat), his irresponsible and profligate spending (massive government expansion, highway and farm bills that were nothing more than payoffs to politicians) as well as the corrupt nature of the elected officials (actual criminals like Duke Cunningham as well as the politically corrupt like Trent Lott, Dennis Hastert, Don Young, Jerry Lewis et al.) conspired to destroy any trust the American public had with the Republican party.
Only through the organic efforts of the Tea Party were Republicans able to gain a foothold in the government levers of power but it was not enough to overcome the deeply tainted brand of their predecessors. Into that maelstrom walked Mitt Romney: decent man, mediocre campaigner and a flawed campaign. This was not enough to overcome a public perception of a party viewed as: “Corporate greed.”“Old.”“Middle-aged white men.” “Rich.” “Hypocritical.” “Narrow-minded.” “Rigid.” “Not progressive.” “Polarizing.” “Stuck in their ways.” by Battleground State voters.
In a fantastic piece on the youth movement looking to transform the Republican Party, Kristen Anderson nee Soltis held a few focus groups in Ohio to gain a sense of public perception on the GOP:
One afternoon last month, I flew with Anderson to Columbus, Ohio, to watch her conduct two focus groups. The first consisted of 10 single, middle-class women in their 20s; the second, of 10 20-something men who were either jobless or employed but seeking better work. All of them voted for Obama but did not identify themselves as committed Democrats and were sufficiently ambivalent about the president’s performance that Anderson deemed them within reach of the Republicans.
The all-female focus group began with a sobering assessment of the Obama economy. All of the women spoke gloomily about the prospect of paying off student loans, about what they believed to be Social Security’s likely insolvency and about their children’s schooling. A few of them bitterly opined that the Democrats care little about the working class but lavish the poor with federal aid. “You get more off welfare than you would at a minimum-wage job,” observed one of them. Another added, “And if you have a kid, you’re set up for life!”
About an hour into the session, Anderson walked up to a whiteboard and took out a magic marker. “I’m going to write down a word, and you guys free-associate with whatever comes to mind,” she said…Anderson then wrote “Republican,” the outburst was immediate and vehement: “Corporate greed.”“Old.”“Middle-aged white men.” “Rich.” “Religious.” “Conservative.” “Hypocritical.” “Military retirees.” “Narrow-minded.” “Rigid.” “Not progressive.” “Polarizing.” “Stuck in their ways.” “Farmers.”
The session with the young men was equally jarring. None of them expressed great enthusiasm for Obama. But their depiction of Republicans was even more lacerating than the women’s had been. “Racist,” “out of touch” and “hateful” made the list — “and put ‘1950s’ on there too!” one called out.
“There is a brand,” the 28-year-old pollster concluded of her party with clinical finality. “And it’s that we’re not in the 21st century.”
Despite the author’s unhelpful interjections of his own opinion, this piece does a fantastic job of laying out many of the problems and opportunities for Republicans. When you look at Mrs. Anderson’s focus groups, remember Romney only needed on average one person out of either focus group to switch their vote and he carries Ohio. The same would have held true for Florida, Virginia, and Colorado. And that’s the election.