Of the conventional wisdom topics that I suggested were the biggest goofs, readers chose by a significant margin “RomneyCare would make it impossible for [Mitt] Romney to gain traction in the race.” That certainly was a view held widely on the right. But during the course of the campaign several factors made that a less-critical flaw.
To begin with, the economy and the high unemployment rate took center stage in the race, pushing most other issues off to the side. Aside from Herman Cain, who flamed out, Mitt Romney was the only contender with significant private-sector experience, which he put to good use in showing his expertise in job creation and the economy more generally.
In addition, Romney was the only candidate other than Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) who had run for president before. You can’t underestimate what an advantage that is. His performance in debates, his ability to keep a consistent narrative, his organizational strength and his ability to keep himself and his supporters on track when things got bumpy turned out to be critical assets that other candidates lacked.
And that points to a larger advantage: luck. The most competent and verbally skilled candidates arguably didn’t run against him. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and a slew of others didn’t run. And it turned out that those who did had considerable flaws and performance problems.
Romney was also aided by the party’s yearning to get rid of President Obama. The issue of electability, stemming from the base’s overwhelming desire to oust Obama from the White House, became a more prominent consideration than normal in a GOP primary. Over and over again voters told pollsters, activists and the media that they wanted to elect a true conservative, but most of all someone who could beat Obama. Romney’s continued advantage over his opponents in head-to-head match-ups with Obama played into his argument that only he could be counted on to beat Obama.
There were other considerations as well, including the prominence of Twitter and other social media, which disseminated news faster than ever and helped expose the weaknesses of Romney’s opponents. But, in addition to all these factors, one has to conclude that there was much more antipathy toward Romney from opinion makers and hard-core activists than from average voters. Throughout the campaign his disapproval numbers have remained low. Perhaps voters, more than pundits, cut him some slack since he was, after all, governor of Massachusetts.