Here's a way to explain just about every general election result in the modern era: A small percentage of Americans preferred your guy over the other guy. The emphasis should be on small, even in elections with clear historical vectors, like in 2008. Elections are more than the sum of their parts, but they can't be reduced to any single part, certainly not in defeat.
Nonetheless, we see patterns in the void, and Republicans and Democrats are likely to have more self-serving, self-sustaining justifications for why their side lost.
Here's what Republicans are likely to say in the event that President Obama is re-elected.
(1) It's the liberal/drive-by/lamestream media's fault. It always is. They covered for President Obama's lapses in Benghazi, failed to hold him to account for his obvious failures, generally failed to vet him properly in 2008, and ignored the scandals during his first term. They tipped the scales. And in the last week, they covered his response to Hurricane Sandy as if he were a conquering hero. They hated Mitt Romney because they were jealous of his success. They ignored Chicago's relentless negative campaign.
(2) The party had the right message and the wrong messenger. Romney was flawed from the start, even if he was manifestly a different person from the plutocrat portrayed in Democratic ads. He never really crossed the presidential threshold, and his campaign had no strategy to defend against the Bain attacks, which stuck to him, artificially holding him down even after the first debate. He emerged too flawed from the GOP primary, which was not well controlled by the party.
(3) Democrats managed to engage in massive voter fraud; illegal immigrants and non-voters tipped the balance, aided by thuggish union bosses desperate to cling to power.
(4) GOP ideas are ascendant, but only Nixon can go to China, and voters think that President Obama will cut the deficit in a kinder way than Mitt Romney would. This is a corollary to explanation 2.
(5) Rush Limbaugh's explanation: The Republican Party will blame the Romney campaign for being too conservative, although Romney actually ran as a liberal. The GOP's low propensity voters were too frustrated with the party and with government in general to vote. There is a silent majority out there who refused to endorse a party that doesn't reflect their core values. Glenn Beck may take this a step further: The soul of the electorate is rotten. The soul of those who voted for Romney and didn't vote are purer.
(6) The party alienated Hispanics, young voters, and women — or allowed the press to magnify hecklers in the party who don't reflect its true core values. But generally, the party has to keep the same platform while somehow expanding their coalition. The party still hasn't figured out how to convince voters in these demographic groups that their interests are best served by conservative policies and politicians.
If Romney loses, here are the real reasons:
The economy overall hasn't improved much since President Obama took office, but the indicators are pointing in the right direction. Voters trust and like Obama more than Romney. The auto bailout issue helped in the Midwest, particularly among white voters. The GOP's demographic share of the electorate continues to shrink proportionally; white voters did not cross the percentage threshold needed for Romney to offset the Obama coalition.
In my next post, I'll look at reasons Democrats will give for an Obama loss.