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Don't forget these 5 pivot points

November 5, 2012, at 6:00 PM

1. Mitt Romney uses the word "self-deportation" in a presidential primary debate, sealing his fate with Latino voters. In Nevada, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, and elsewhere, a Republican candidate who manages to attract 35 percent of the Latino vote is a presidential candidate who is broadening the tent and building a solid foundation for a GOP electoral majority in the future. That candidate is not Mitt Romney. When GOP strategists euphemistically say that the GOP needs "new language" to bring in minority voters, they're actually talking about stuff like this: The inability of standard-bearers to accept reality and change their minds on immigration policy. Self-deportation was Romney's way, in January, of telling the GOP primary audience that he didn't favor amnesty. Of course, he wouldn't be so mean as to "round" people up, but he would make it so hard for undocumented immigrants to live here that they'd decide to go back on their own. Practically, that means that the U.S. would go out of its way to treat people who are living here indecently. That's just mean. Couple that with President Obama's executive order allowing children brought to the U.S. by undocumented immigrants to acquire legal status, and the party threw away its chance to remind Latinos that the president didn't keep his promise to comprehensively reform the system.  

2. Romney asks Rick Perry if he wanted to bet $10,000 that the former Massachusetts governor didn't pursue an individual mandate when he negotiated his health care reform plan with Democrats. The merits of the bet aside, the moment led to days and days of news coverage portraying Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat. Of course, Americans don't mind rich people. What they don't like, and what killed Romney during the spring, was the idea that he was an out-of-touch rich guy who had no idea what average Americans needed. The Obama campaign spent millions in key states chiseling in this image. Romney was able to shake some of it off with his expectations-breaking performance at his first general election debate, but it may not have not been enough, and the negative impression formed by Romney may ultimately be what lies in voters minds as they cast their ballots.

3. ObamaCare is upheld by the Supreme Court. This galvanized Republicans to rally around Romney, but it also took the issue off the table, polls suggest. It become priced into the relative stock prices of each candidate. On the presidential level, it didn't matter anymore. 

4. Romney refuses to divulge more tax returns. This is still a head-scratcher. Romney seems to have paid taxes and didn't break any laws. His refusal to release his tax returns is baffling. It suggests an aloofness that, once again, made it much more difficult for him to connect with average voters until it was (possibly) too late.

5. Barack Obama says the biggest mistake of his presidency was that he didn't tell a good story to the American people. Well, he's not Garrison Keillor. Pundits say that his first debate was disastrous and reinforced every bad stereotype about him. I think that, politically, he'll look at his administration's inability to to do more to make the housing market whole as the biggest mistake of his term. Concerns about housing prices and the drop in wealth hover above everything, even for those who have jobs. Holistically, this means that Obama should have done things a lot more and a lot bigger early on. In retrospect, it's hard to square that view with the political risks he did take. But had the first stimulus been larger and better crafted, the economy might well be in better shape now. Blame some of this on wishful thinking: The longer Obama was president, the more incentive he had to pump up the economy using words and political theatrics. But in the end, maybe he ought to have realized that the early green shoots he was seeing weren't quite ready to blossom.

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