It's an old adage in presidential politics: When you win, you look like a genius; when you lose, not so much. And after being blown away in the Electoral College vote, Mitt Romney isn't winning any plaudits for his smarts. From a risky vice-presidential pick to deceptive ads aired in battleground states, analysts are questioning the myriad choices Team Romney made in the run-up to Tuesday's decisive defeat. Here, seven things they say Romney should have done differently:
1. Supported the auto bailout
For much of the race, it seemed as though it would all come down to Ohio. And on Election Night, President Obama was declared the winner as soon as the Buckeye State's 18 electoral votes were put in his column, a reward from voters for his bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler, which saved hundreds of thousands of Ohio jobs. Romney, whose father was a titan in the auto industry, opposed providing the companies with government aid. "Romney never retracted the comments," says David Shepardson at The Detroit News, "and instead ran ads that suggested GM and Chrysler were moving jobs to China — denounced as misleading by factcheckers."
2. Picked Rob Portman for VP
Romney struggled in Ohio due to his opposition to the auto bailout, but a prescient vice-presidential pick could have buoyed his chances. There are "lots of what-might-have-beens about Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, another finalist for the slot," says Maggie Haberman at Politico. And Romney's actual choice, Paul Ryan, couldn't help the ticket in his home state of Wisconsin and may have ended up hurting Romney in other states. Even Romney campaign officials worried that Ryan "identified too closely with his proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program, an idea that could alienate seniors critical in Florida," say Scott Wilson and Philip Rucker at The Washington Post.
3. Distanced himself from his party
For all Romney's perceived faults, the biggest drag on his ticket may have been his own party. "Even a clumsy candidate might have beaten Obama if not for a simple factor that could not be overcome," says Jacob Weisberg at Slate: "The GOP's growing extremism." Romney is "not a right-wing extremist," says Weisberg, but to win the Republican primary, "he had to feign being one, recasting himself as 'severely conservative' and eschewing the reasonableness that made him a successful, moderate governor of the country's most liberal state." He tried to move to the center in the general election, "but, ultimately, the contradictions inherent within both Romney and his party simply couldn't be overcome," says Timothy Stanley at CNN.
4. Countered Obama's Bain attacks
From the outset, the Obama campaign made it crystal clear what its strategy was going to be. "First it would soften up Mitt Romney as the sort of heartless over-dog who could watch Seabiscuit and somehow root for his big scary rival," says Noam Scheiber at The New Republic. "Then it would add a policy dimension to the argument, accusing Romney of wanting to cut taxes for the rich while defunding the programs the rest of us rely on." Team Obama was relentless in focusing on Romney's tenure at private equity firm Bain Capital to make its case that the Republican was a heartless corporate raider. "What's surprising is that, having watched Chicago telegraph its plan," says Scheiber, "the Romney campaign chose not to adjust its own strategy in response."
5. Ditched the hyper-focus on the economy
Team Romney's strategy was simple: It's the economy, stupid. With unemployment hovering at or above 8 percent for the bulk of Obama's term, it seemed logical that dissatisfied voters would toss him out. The problem? The economy was slowly improving. Republicans "were betting that the economy either couldn't or wouldn't recover in time for the 2012 election," which for a long time "seemed like a smart bet," says Daniel Gross at The Daily Beast. "As summer turned to fall, however, the improvement in the consumer and labor economy was increasingly obvious," and "every piece of positive economic data was problematic for Romney."
6. Appealed to Latino voters
Everyone knows it: The Republican Party has a huge Latino problem. "Romney made a conscious decision to blow off Hispanic voters" in order to win the GOP primary, says Erick Erickson at Red State. Team Romney's outreach to Latinos "was atrocious and, frankly, the fastest growing demographic in America isn't going to vote for a party that sounds like that party hates brown people," says Erickson. Less discussed: The GOP also has a major problem with black voters, who "turned out in huge numbers, helping the president in urban areas in Ohio," says Haberman. Romney's near total reliance on white voters was a startling admission of the GOP's tribal appeal, and clearly played a factor in his loss.
7. Developed a better ground game
Obama relied heavily on his much-vaunted ground game to get his supporters to the polls — and they showed up in droves. The Romney campaign, on the other hand, were merely "counting on enthusiasm," says Haberman, "without offering much backup beyond expecting their voters to turn out on Election Day." While Obama's operation was modern and technologically sophisticated, Romney's was almost pathetically old-fashioned. Team Romney "came up with a super-secret, super-duper vote monitoring system that was dubbed Project Orca," after the whale, says Byron York at The Washington Examiner. But it "projected a Romney victory of somewhere between 290 and 300 electoral votes," and later on Election Night "crashed in the heat of action." One aide said of the debacle, "Orca is lying on the beach with a harpoon in it."