Mitt Romney's disastrous ground game and 7 other behind-the-scenes revelations

Romney's get-out-the-vote operation was comically inept. Obama barely prepared for the first debate. Romney spent $25,000 on victory fireworks. And more!

On Election Night, Mitt Romney remained stoic. Ann Romney cried. Paul Ryan was shocked. Janna Ryan teared up.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

The presidential election is over, but the real story behind the race is only just emerging. After months of enough spin to make a washing machine envious, members of the campaigns are starting to let down their guard and dish some dirt to media outlets. From Mitt Romney's embarrassingly ineffective get-out-the-vote operation to President Obama's peevish attitude toward the debates, post-election autopsies have given political junkies a lot to mull over before they, yes, turn to the 2016 race. Here, eight behind-the-scenes revelations from the campaign:

1. Romney was shellshocked by Obama's victory

Romney genuinely believed that he would become the nation's 45th president, and was "shellshocked" by his landslide loss. "I don't think there was one person who saw this coming," one senior adviser told Jan Crawford at CBS News. Why was Team Romney so certain of victory? They simply did not believe that younger voters and minorities would turn out the way they did in 2008. "As a result," says Crawford, "they believed that the public/media polls were skewed" in Obama's favor, and rejiggered them to show Romney with "turnout levels more favorable to Romney." In essence, Romney "unskewed" the polls, mirroring widely mocked moves by conservatives to show their candidate with a lead, epitomized by the now-infamous website Romney's defenders say he had plausible reasons to believe Obama's turnout would be lower; less charitable commentators say Romney and his aides were stuck in a conservative media echo chamber at odds with reality.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

2. Obama's get-out-the-vote operation was amazing

Obama's ground game relied on "an extraordinarily sophisticated database packed with names of millions of undecided voters and potential supporters," says The New York Times. The database allowed Obama's army of field workers to target new voters, register them, and get them to the polls. On Election Day, it became clear that the Obama campaign had altered "the very nature of the electorate, making it younger and less white," says The Times. "The power of this operation stunned Mr. Romney's aides on election night, as they saw voters they never even knew existed turn out in places like Osceola County, Fla."

3. Romney's get-out-the-vote operation was hopeless

The Romney campaign "came up with a super-secret, super-duper vote monitoring system that was dubbed Project Orca," says Byron York at The Washington Examiner. The so-called "mega-app for smartphones" was supposed to "link the more than 30,000 operatives and volunteers involved in get-out-the-vote efforts," in a bid to coordinate everyone's efforts and maximize turnout, say Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns at Politico. But Project Orca was a complete and utter failure. The program crashed on Election Day, which meant that "workers on the ground didn't know what doors to knock on," say Haberman and Burns. The campaign was flying blind, relying on CNN and other media outlets to track turnout. "The end result," says John Ekdahl, a Romney campaign worker, at Ace of Spades, "was that 30,000+ of the most active and fired-up volunteers were wandering around confused and frustrated when they could have been doing anything else to help."

4. Obama underestimated Romney's debating prowess

In the run-up to the first presidential debate, Obama "displayed little concern" about the challenge ahead of him, and "his impatience with the exercise was evident," says The Times. He ended up walking "into a trap that Mr. Romney's advisers had anticipated: His antipathy toward Mr. Romney — which advisers described as deeper than what Mr. Obama had felt for John McCain in 2008 — led the incumbent to underestimate his opponent as he began moving to the center before the debate audiences of millions of television viewers." As a result, the president spent the rest of the campaign making up for "what was arguably the most dismal night of Mr. Obama's political career."

5. Romney was desperate for money

"The GOP nominee emerged late last spring from a long and bruising Republican primary season more damaged than commonly realized," say Sara Murray and Patrick O'Connor at The Wall Street Journal. Romney "had spent so much money winning the nomination" that he had to spend the first weeks and months of the general campaign touring fundraising meccas in "California, Texas, and New York — none of which were important political battlegrounds." Romney raised about $800 million, but "paid a deep political price," giving the Obama campaign a large window of time to "define the Republican candidate on its terms."

6. Romney was beholden to Donald Trump

Perhaps the Romney campaign's "most fatal mistake was its tortured, 16-month quest to win the affection of rank-and-file conservatives via their most boisterous mouthpiece — at the expense of everything else," says McKay Coppins at BuzzFeed. That would be Donald Trump, the country's most famous birther. "Trump's appeal to the Republican base was undeniable," and Romney spent a fair amount of effort winning his endorsement. But the "Trump stunt did not end up sending Tea Partiers marching en masse to the primary polls," and Romney's new ties to birtherism "became, increasingly, a political headache." The Obama campaign linked Trump with Romney at every opportunity, and Trump "required constant maintenance by the campaign to keep him from going completely off the rails."

7. Ann Romney cried when Obama won

When it was all over on Election Night, the GOP nominee called Obama to concede defeat. "Romney was stoic as he talked to the president," says CBS News' Crawford, "but his wife Ann cried." His running mate Paul Ryan "seemed genuinely shocked," while "Ryan's wife Janna also was shaken and cried softly."

8. Romney had purchased victory fireworks

"Things didn't go as planned for Mitt Romney on Election Day in more ways than one," says Glen Johnson at The Boston Globe. "The Republican was prepared to celebrate his election as the 45th president with an eight-minute fireworks display within view of his party at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center." The Romney campaign reportedly paid $25,000 for fireworks that "had a patriotic theme, heavy on red, white, and blue colors."

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us