November 7th, 2012
Mitt Romney accepted the nomination of his party for president with a speech that showed he can rise to an occasion, and let us see a side of him that was compelling and heartbreaking. . . .
When Romney arrived, dramatically walking through the hall, it was a reminder how determined some in the party had been not to like him. No more. . . .
The speech was succinct and clear, providing a contrast to the president, about whom Romney said had no real plan to revive the economy. It was a mirror image of the speaker: well organized, sentimental, reasoned and optimistic. The irony is the Mitt Romney we’ve seen on the trail is not complicated or “weird” or lacking warmth or even out of touch. He is, like many men of his generation, somewhat reserved and in a cultural time warp. Tonight, he also showed some mettle and spine.
After nearly four years of high-flying rhetoric, “coolness” and a failure by the chief executive to execute, Romney is hoping that the convention, followed by the debates, will be sufficient to reassure voters who have had it with Obama. Tonight he took a step in the right direction.
Until October it was the Perils of Pauline campaign. It moved in fits and starts on foreign policy. The message was rarely consistent from day to day. Gobs of ads were aired to no apparent effect. The convention speech was a huge missed opportunity.
(2) Some people think I’m exaggerating when I say that Romney was the worst candidate to win his party’s nomination since WWII. Can everyone agree that John McCain was a terrible candidate, or at least that he ran a terrible campaign? (I love McCain myself, but that doesn’t mean he was a great candidate.) Can we agree that McCain ran in one of the most challenging environments possible–two wars, financial crisis, opposing the historic first black nominee? And Romney’s environment has been quite favorable–can we agree on that?
If Romney had merely been able to hold onto all of the McCain ’08 vote–he would have won the popular vote . Other candidates that we think of as being weak–Dukakis, Gore, Dole, Stevenson–what they all have in common is that before losing the presidency they won a bunch of elections.
On the other hand the 48 percent of the vote Romney won last night was one of his better electoral showings.
The first duty of a politician is to win elections. Mitt Romney spent the last 18 years losing contests, to a variety of opponents ranging, in terms of ability, ideology, and resources, from Ted Kennedy to Rick Santorum.
(3) Santino makes a good point:
One final note, to Republicans: Just remember, whichever pet issue you have that the base disagrees with, that’s the one we need to change in order to ensure success going forward. So, you know, argue extremely loudly, preferably on Twitter, about it for the next few weeks.
Oh yes. Remember: Always be suspicious of paths to salvation which track personal preference.
(4) On this same line of thinking, please understand that when I say Mitt Romney was a historically bad candidate, it’s not because I thought he wasn’t conservative enough, or moderate enough, or because I had someone else in mind. (Okay, that last one’s a lie. Mitch Daniels, obvs.) But I do think it’s important to knock down the canard that Romney was the best candidate available. For one thing, Romney himself heavily influenced the pool of candidates by sucking up money and firing warning shots across the bows of potential rivals. But for another, let me just pose you this hypothetical:
It’s December 2011 and I come back to you in a time machine from the future. I won’t tell you whether or not he wins, but I will tell you that if Mitt Romney is the nominee in 2012, he will get more than 2 million fewer votes than John McCain did in 2008. Then I leave it up to you: You can go with Romney and hope that’s good enough, or you can pick whoever’s behind Door #2–Perry, Santorum, Pawlenty, Gingrich, Huntsman, whoever. We can’t prove counterfactual history, but I suspect most people would have rolled the dice with Door #2 on the theory of how much worse could it get?
Finally, I hesitate to say this, because it’s basically an argument to authority, but I’d suggest that if you spent a lot of time following presidential candidates around it significantly reinforced the sense that Romney was not, qua candidate, the best available player. I suspect that most people who say he wasn’t so bad as a politician haven’t spent a lot of time watching these guys up close. In person, the glare off his shortcomings was blinding.
(5) Over the last few weeks I’ve missed my friend Dean Barnett even more than usual. Dean, who began writing as Soxblogger and came to work with me at the magazine, was Romney’s single best advocate. Totally, completely in the tank for Romney–but cheerful and transparent and funny; good-humored and straight-shooting. He didn’t insult your intelligence with idiotic spin. And he genuinely believed in Romney’s abilities as a governing executive.
For the most part, the media boosters who glommed on to Romney this time around were . . . less attractive. And persuasive. But the single most striking thing is that the arguments mounted on behalf of Romney were almost always about process: He’s the most electable. He’s the only one able to raise enough money. He’s the only one with a national infrastructure. It was rare to hear one of Romney’s boosters explain how Romney’s vision for the country or capabilities uniquely qualified him for the job of president.
There was, to my mind, only one qualitative argument generally made in favor of Romney: that his management experience made him uniquely qualified to be president. He was a “turn-around artist.” A “genius CEO.” Now even the claim that his private-sector ability to master organizations and rescue them was a variation on process. And it always struck me as a little dubious. For one thing, it’s not immediately clear how the skill set of the private-sector executive transfers to the job of managing the executive branch of the U.S. government. CEOs say jump and everyone around them says how high. The president says jump and half of Congress tries to countermand the order while getting him fired and the other branch of government gets to decide whether jumping is even theoretically allowed.
But at least this was a falsifiable claim. And the fact that Romney could not master even his own campaign organization in order to win an incredibly winnable election demonstrates–incontrovertiably–that it wasn’t true. If he was a turn-around artist, he would be president-elect right now.
Most political campaigns aren’t invalidated by a loss. A candidate puts forward an idea or a worldview and it can stand whether or not it’s embraced by voters. It has its own truth. But in the wake of his loss Romney’s campaign now looks ludicrous. He simply can’t be a “genius” of managing and salvaging and not win. (Orca.)
(6) Romney now exits public life, stage right, leaving the smallest footprint of any man to win his party’s nomination in, at least, a century. He was not a war hero like John McCain or a Senate bull like Bob Dole. He does not leave behind a guiding core ideology that others might nurture and grow, like Barry Goldwater. Even Michael Dukakis and John Kerry spent years in harness to public service. George McGovern served his country with distinction and issued warnings about the nature of government that look prescient today. Hubert Humphrey held nearly every office there was and Adlai Stevenson was a genuine intellectual.
Mitt Romney was a governor for two years before deciding to run for president. He passed a healthcare law that became the forerunner of Obamacare. He made a lot of money. Seen in this light, it’s still a little shocking that he was entrusted with the Republican party’s standard.
(7) Ann Coulter is very smart but I don’t even know how to respond to this:
Romney was the perfect candidate, and he was the president this country needed right now. It’s less disheartening that a president who wrecked American health care, quadrupled gas prices, added $6 trillion to the national debt and gave us an 8 percent unemployment rate can squeak out re-election than that America will never have Romney as our president.
Indeed, Romney is one of the best presidential candidates the Republicans have ever fielded. Blaming the candidate may be fun, but it’s delusional and won’t help us avoid making the same mistakes in the future.