David Frum

03.04.13

No, I'm Pretty Sure Mitt Romney 'Gets It'

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The Daily Beast's own Peter Beinart is out today with a rather scathing critique of what he deems Mitt Romney's failure to get why he lost.

Beinart specifically identifies two reasons Romney seems to be saying he lost: 1) Being stuck in extremely ideological positions after the primary; and 2) Obama's power of the incumbency (i.e. giving things away to minority voters.)

I have no problem with Beinart's identification of these two claims. In fact, we've been strong critics of politics of extremism and reactionaryism here at the Frum blog.

But Romney's second claim, which has attracted the standard racial frame that seems to come from left and right when talking about President Obama, is less about minority voters than a simple observation on politics. Voters care about how policies will impact themselves, their families, and the community to which they identify. This is a core truth of the democratic process, and it's a lesson conservatives must heed going forward.

Video screenshot

Watch the highlights of Mitt and Ann Romney's Fox News interview on Sunday.

You see, I'm quite sure Mitt Romney knows precisely why he lost: he failed at the basic task of offering voters things (gifts, even) that corresponded to their wants and needs.

He was rather successful in appealing to a shrinking cadre of the American electorate. For the sake of this post, let's call this cadre the Republican base.

After all, he just wrapped a campaign in which he'd had to swear fealty to the idea of repealing ObamaCare, which looked awfully like something called RomneyCare. Romney, who hails from a church where philanthropy and community are part of life's basic fabric, was trained and trained until he was capable of giving the 47 percent comments without a hint of irony. And it was Romney who harped about debt and deficits and tax cuts and bootstraps and business and cutting spending and heroic entrepreunership, all in the midst of a very painful jobs crisis.

At this summer's GOP convention, this Republican Romney was golden.

But Romney would soon discover his Faustian bargain - to veer sharply right in order to ward off primary challengers - was not without significant cost. Here's what Romney swiftly realized about 2012 America once the glow of the convention faded.

A voter without a job didn't give a rat's behind about "unfunded liabilities." Someone who previously was denied health insurance wasn't overly concerned about arguments that ObamaCare was somehow tyrannical. Young voters, particularly in the black and hispanic communities, seemed, yes, quite happy with President Obama's attention on higher education, healthcare, and infrastructure.

And so it was that Romney's attempts to move to the center failed. As he discovered quite painfully, there wasn't a middle left to capture. Between 2008 and 2012, the GOP base moved sharply to the right, ceding massive ground to President Obama. What Romney discovered when he moved to the middle was that someone else was firmly planted there: Barack Obama. The President, in his incumbency, didn't have to do a thing to own the middle ground. The GOP primaries did all that work for him.

Romney lost in part because he allowed his campaign and personality to be defined as extreme and callous. He lost the rest because his policy proposals were no longer relevant to broad swaths of American society. He seemed to recognize this after the convention (remember that glorious first debate?), but by then, too little, too late.

Beinart claims Romney is out of touch by talking about how minorities responded well to ObamaCare. Well, didn't they?

And the question for Republicans is thus: perhaps making the repeal of ObamaCare the core animus of the 2012 campaign was a tiny little mistake?