By Rob Roper
Sun Tzu said that every battle is won or lost before it’s ever fought. Looking at the numbers, it appears Republicans lost this election when they chose Mitt Romney to be their nominee.
Like almost every active Republican in America, I have been spending the day trying to figure out what the hell happened on Tuesday. Did we really misjudge America’s dissatisfaction with Obama? Did Obama’s vaunted ground game really come through? Was this a demographic wave destined to drown Republicans? Looking at 2012 v. 2008 v. 2004 vote totals, the answers are no, no, and no. The problem appears to have been the Republican candidate, his message and his strategy.
Consider this: In 2008, John McCain – an uninspiring candidate dealing with a crashing economy, two unpopular wars, and the legacy of George W. Bush hanging around his neck — got 59,934,814 votes against Barack Obama at the apex of his popularity. They’re still counting the stragglers, but as of now Mitt Romney has 57,401,992 votes. It appears that Romney will receive fewer total votes than did John McCain. Given the current economic situation, the state of the Middle East, the unemployment numbers, etc., that’s astonishing. It is beyond comprehension, which is probably why so many people failed to comprehend it was happening.
If Romney had been able to inspire the 62,040,610 people who came out to vote for George Bush – a man with a 48% approval rating at the time — in 2004, he’d be president now. He couldn’t do that. At the same time, Romney was not done in by wave of undetected affirmation for Obama. He was not overrun by a well-oiled, Democratic, ground-game machine (though it was apparently better than the Republicans’). The president received nearly 10,000,000 fewer votes in 2012 than he did in 2008, 60,085,524 vs. 69,456,897. That’s a 15% drop in support for Obama over four years, and still Romney could not capitalize.
Why? Romney’s early supporters banked on the notion that the “safe,” “moderate” candidate who didn’t rock the boat or scare away folks in the middle would walk into the Oval office by default. No president, after all, has been re-elected with unemployment over 7.2%. His campaign then spent the primary torching movement conservatives.
In 2010, the Tea Party defined the election. Led by people such as Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, Jim DeMint, and Alan West, Republicans won historic gains at every level of government from the U.S. Senate to governorships to state house seats. In 2012, the “establishment”, for lack of a better word, seized the reins. We saw the results on November 6th.
I like Mitt Romney. I think after the October 3rd debate he did win the hearts and minds of many political junkies who hang on every news story of a long election cycle, even those of us who didn’t consider him our first pick in the primary. I know I truly believed he would win right up until about 9:30 Tuesday night. I think he would have made a good, maybe even an exceptional, president. But Republicans would be foolish to ever run a candidate like him with a strategy like his again. Republicans need to make a passionate, positive, persuasive case for why they deserve to run the government. Someone told me a truism early in my advertising career, “’Safe’ advertising isn’t.” The same is true of candidates.
The campaign for 2014 begins today. What would Sun Tzu do?