Wednesday, November 7, 2012

About last night

Well.... last night was crazy in a non-crazy kind of way, unexpected but totally expected.

First, a little self-criticism to immunize myself from others' (isn't that why we all self-flagellate?).

I correctly predicted Obama would win (and I called Virginia right, too!), but I was just as confident that Romney would win Florida and Colorado. In fact, here's a link to my brashness on those two states just to keep you from digging for it.

I was wrong on polling. I thought the polls had the direction right (Obama ahead) but the margins wrong (too close to call). Ultimately, Obama won bigger than I thought, electorally, and by bigger margins than I thought. I do think Hurricane Sandy had an effect, but that's academic speculation at this point with the only practical consequence that it handed Christie a severe setback for a presidential bid in 2016.

So with all those things in mind, here are three of my big take-aways from last night, although keep in mind there are more, and I'll be blogging about them soon.

Here goes...

a. Ugly isn't just a town in California's Central Valley.

Mitt Romney, er, Mitt Romney's Super PAC won an efficient, uninspiring, and brutally negative campaign in the GOP primary.

Remember those Florida mailers accusing Rick Perry of wanting to "kill Social Security"?

Remember those ads, disingenuously shredding Newt Gingrich on forced abortions in China?

"Restore Our Future", the name of the pro-Romney Super PAC, would have been better titled "Restore Our Lead At Any Cost", because that's what it was always about, and that's what it invariably did.

It was misleading demagoguery and since Romney had all the money, he had the final say and he had the nomination. But here's what he didn't have in April -- the adoration of his party nor the respect from anyone watching, except for some "wow, he really destroyed those guys" kind of way that you reserve for a basketball assassin who's not particularly likable but wins.

Well, Barack Obama did to Romney what Romney did to his primary foes -- except Obama was even worse (and therefore, better).

His attacks against Romney were intensely personal (remember the cancer ad that was pulled, but nevertheless, showed how low the campaign was willing to go), unbelievably petty (personal tax returns, Big Bird, Binders), shameless demagoguery (accusing, in the most inflammatory and divisive of terms, Republicans of waging a"war on women" -- can you imagine if Romney accused Obama of waging "a war on whites"?), and small for the moment (agenda), small for history (agenda) and miniscule by his own standards (2008).

Yes, Romney was negative and deceptive over aspects of Obama's record, but he didn't attack Obama's person -- he largely stuck to the economy. Maybe not out of honor, and maybe just out of the fact that Obama's dismal record on the economy was plenty to work with, but he didn't really attack Obama's character.

But the Obama campaign, from the beginning, set out to destroy Romney -- not so much politically as first and foremost, personally. They knew that if they could shred Romney's personal character, they would finish him off politically. A job done well, but not well-done in any moral sense of the word.

Last night, Obama won stirring reviews for a gracious, uplifting, and positive speech. But those are easy to do when you've just won reelection and since those adjectives were utterly missing from his general election campaign, it made last night's olive branch feel hollow and meaningless.

Close elections get dirty. Both these guys threw filth around, but the end of the election doesn't mean the end for shame, and it cloaked this race like a stifling Lady Gaga perfume.

In the annals of presidential campaigns, this didn't rank with the worst (see Jackson vs. Adams as an example of the presidential pits), but ubiquity doesn't make moral failings any less acute, and a president who was one of the most inspirational figures of the past 100 years often seemed incapable of going 100 sentences without accusing Romney of euthanizing the 101 Dalmatians.

There was nothing inspirational about this race -- stretching from the GOP primary to the presidential election, and one cynical campaign just passed the torch to another that was simply better at it.

b. The GOP has a Hispanic problem that's deeper than anyone suggests.

We all saw the stats last night.

And we all know that the GOP's hardline rhetoric, failure to meaningfully embrace a major demographic, and continual resistance to something as financially small but symbolically important as the DREAM Act has hurt the party severely.

But there's something much more dangerous for the GOP that I don't think too many Republicans are willing to admit -- Hispanics are just more liberal, ideologically, than the GOP.

They're not more liberal because they vote more liberal (even though they do), they're more liberal because about 70% of them believe in the things liberals do -- like more government involvement, more social services, and a bigger safety net.

No matter how inclusive the GOP's rhetoric might become, no matter how progressive a shift on immigration might be, neither of those addresses an ideological gap that's deep and real. (Quick example: in the most recent Latino Decisions poll, 73% of Hispanics said they'd rather keep Medicare exactly as it is even if it means raising taxes, while only 19% favored reducing government spending to help pay for it. And there's much, much more like that).

Further, for those looking to Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio as examples of how the GOP can successfully sell itself to Hispanics, keep in mind where those two studs reside -- Florida. A state where Hispanics are abnormally friendly to Republicans, thanks to a Cuban-American population that, anyway, is getting less and less Republican.

The only bright spots for the GOP are in New Mexico (Susana Martinez) and Texas (Ted Cruz). Martinez is the most popular governor in the country, and manages that in a Democratic state where Hispanics make up 46% of the population.You can't get more impressive than that.

None of this is to say the GOP can't win Hispanics. But it's just much more difficult than shifting rhetoric or getting more progressive on immigration. It's about getting a demographic that's, by and large, oriented toward a government-centric philosophy to buy into another.

That's not easy. It will take someone big to do it.

c. Myth: Romney lost because he didn't fight.

Laura Ingraham started hitting Romney last night for not running a more aggressive campaign and for not pursuing the Benghazi story.

But Benghazi was a political loser, and Romney knew it. If anything were to come from it, it'd have to be the media pursuing it; not Romney. Americans don't like anything that smacks of politics over a tragedy.

No, Benghazi wasn't Romney's failure. It was the media's failure and it was the public's failure -- neither was interested nor particularly moved by the obfuscations of the Administration. Ironically, it was the Obama Administration who seems to have played political football with the tragedy, even if we're still in the dark about the final tally of who knew what.

Romney chose his fights wisely. He was relentless on the economy, and was close to winning this thing on fiscal things, pre-Hurricane. Every second he spent not talking about the economy was a second wasted -- that was the maxim and that's what voters really cared about this year.

Conservatives were, for the most part, liking his campaign before he was losing it last night. They liked the way he wouldn't apologize and quiver at the prospect of losing the media's love (ala John McCain), the way he wouldn't be bullied on doing things like raising money with Trump, the way he exploited "you didn't build that" and turned it into a three day gala of championing small business, the way he circled Obama in the debates and didn't back down when the media suggested he play nicer.

If he'd won last night, can you even imagine? The guy who knocked out Obama? All sorts of amazing love would be going on, but turnout and demographic realities snuffed the candle just as it was turning into a flame (and now, of course, everyone will deny that there was even the smallest of flickering fires, in the first place).

Romney was, ultimately, a flawed candidate because voters never felt he really cared about them. That's pretty much all.

And that was an impression forged from his style and stereotype; not the substance of his soul. This is a guy who cares about people -- no matter how cynically the Obama campaign portrayed him.

Romney might have made a few tactical errors, but he didn't lose because he fell asleep while manning the controls of the weather.

Hurricane Sandy was an act of God; not an act of Fehrnstrom.

The only blame to drop at Romney's feet is that he wasn't specific (although it's not like Obama filled in any sort of blanks). Voters marginally thought Romney would do better on the economy, but he never gave them anything to hold onto other than his resume, which Obama pecked apart in Ohio.

If Romney was weak, it was from personality and a dearth of details; not from a dearth of attacks.