Call it a metaphor. The Romney team held a hastily arranged 2 p.m. conference call for some conservative new-media journalists. By 2 p.m., no call in number had been provided. To the bitter end, the logistics seem too much for them to handle.
Once the call finally started, Matt Rhodes, who remained hidden from view throughout the campaign, praised Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), whom he said “has a very bright future. He will be a leader in the Republicans Party and the conservative movement.” He acknowledged, “We made our share of mistakes.” He then passed the baton to others.
Pollster Neil Newhouse, whose internal polls were premised on an electorate that was D +2 or 3 rather than D +6 (leaving the candidate and the rest of the campaign stunned when Romney-Ryan lost) acknowledged that the Obama team did its job targeting 18- to 29-year-olds, whose percentage of the electorate went up, Hispanics and African Americans. For example, the Obama team surprised the Romney team by increasing the percentage of African American voters in Ohio by 160,000 votes from 2008, well in excess of the margin of victory.
In exit polling, Newhouse cited Romney’s advantage on which candidate had a better vision, shared their values and was a strong leader. But on the question who of cares about people like me, he lost 18 to 81 percent.
Newhouse insisted that the political environment changed dramatically in a year on both right track/wrong track and job approval (45 percent to 54 percent). Left unsaid was why this was not recognized and addressed during the campaign.
As for Hurricane Sandy, he said, “It was a factor, not the factor.” The storm, he said, caused us “to hit the pause button on our message for 3 or 4 days . . . and gave him the opportunity to appear presidential.” He noted that of the 15 percent who said Sandy was the most important factor, 17 percent made up their mind in the last two days of the campaign, working out to 3 percent of the electorate.
On turnout, he said that when all the votes come in there will be about 130 million votes cast, slightly down from 132 million in 2008, with the drop off essentially in Sandy-hit states.
Political director Rich Beeson boasted about their door-knocking and voter contact numbers. Although the Romney team matched the Obama team in contacts and doors-knocked, a savvy Republican told me that the GOP side is plainly not doing this as effectively as the Democrats. (For example, I received nearly 100 robocalls from the GOP during the course of the campaign. Should the campaign credit itself with 100 calls to the same household?)
On the ORCA get-out-the-vote system the Romney team used, which has been widely panned, Beeson insisted that the campaign got 91 percent of the data back and was able to record how and when some 14.3 million voters voted, information to be used in the future. He conceded, “There were glitches in the system,” but claimed it had been “Beta tested,” just not with the full avalanche of incoming data.
Newhouse summed up: “We let down Gov. Romney.” Indeed, Romney the CEO has always hired the best people and trusted them to do their jobs well. In this case, his team was not up to the task, not by a long shot.
How did they do so badly with Hispanics? Well, the Obama team ran really nasty ads in Spanish (“meaner and nastier than anything they did in English”) and Obamacare worked against Romney in the Hispanic community. (And what in the world did they do in response?) Did they blow it going into Pennsylvania? Well, other states were full funded (but didn’t they lose some of these?) and public polls showed it close there too.
In short, the Romney team explained what happened but didn’t explain what they or anyone else got wrong, did wrong or failed to do. In particular, it is crystal clear that the campaign incorrectly assessed the composition of the electorate in 2012, assuming it would be far less Democratic than it turned out to be. (Plainly someone who is not interested in the election can be dragged to the polls by the Democrats but not by Republicans.) That in turn resulted in a slew of errors (where ads ran, where the candidates went, how aggressive Romney was in the final debate.)
The Republican National Committee should take over the after-action vetting so that the logistical screw-ups, which now seem to dwarf any message problems, can be addressed. After this call, I am more convinced than ever that the supreme irony of the presidential race was that Mitt Romney didn’t do what he is lauded for, and he sat atop a completely incompetent campaign. If Ryan runs in 2016, he should staff up accordingly.