December 24, 2012

Over the weekend, the Boston Globe ran a long post-mortem of Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful bid for the presidency. Thus far, looks at the campaign have focused on Team Romney’s failure to deliver in the final weeks of the election. The Globe, on the other hand, details a campaign beset with a whole host of problems.


(Associated Press)

For example, there was no attempt by Team Romney to define the candidate’s qualities to the public. Instead, the campaign focused its fire on President Obama, somehow blind to the fact that attitudes toward the president were largely set in stone — either you approved and hoped for success, or disapproved and were willing to vote for an alternative. This mis-focus gave Team Obama the space to run a torrent of damaging, anti-Romney ads that defined the candidate as callous and unconcerned with ordinary people. They worked; in the end the overwhelming majority of people felt that it was Obama who cared about people “like them.”

The Romney campaign made other, and larger, mistakes. Its biggest seems to be its decision to wave away Team Obama’s massive expenditures on offices and staff. It assumed that the Obama campaign was wasting money. The Globe quotes Tagg Romney:

“We were looking at all the money they were spending in the primary and we were thinking ‘what are they spending all their money on? They’re wasting a lot of money.’ They weren’t. They were paying staffers in Florida” and elsewhere.

The Obama campaign had 3,000 staffers nationwide, leading an army of volunteers that numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Indeed, there were more than 700 paid staffers in Florida alone, which itself dwarfed the 500 staffers employed by Team Romney nationwide.

One striking thing about the Globe’s analysis is the extent to which former Romney staffers continue to focus on biography as the thing that lost them the election. If they could have shown the public the goodness of Mitt Romney, people would have responded to him positively. There’s little recognition from the campaign that Romney’s big problem — perhaps, his biggest problem — was the emptiness of his agenda.

On the question of “cares about people like me,” Obama beat Romney by a margin of 63 points, 81 percent to 18 percent. Only so much of that is attributable to negative advertising. In all likelihood, a large part of it is a result of the fact that Romney offered nothing to ordinary families. His policies promised tax cuts for the rich, deregulation for corporations and an outright attack on measures designed to help middle-class Americans — such as the Affordable Care Act.

The Romney campaign had a lot of problems, yes, but it’s hard to overcome an agenda that is either irrelevant — or hostile — to the concerns of most people.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.