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Tipsheet

Why Did Mitt Romney Lose?

Of course, virtually every American who follows politics closely will posit an explanation for why Mitt Romney came up short in 2012. But Sean Trende’s analysis over at Real Clear Politics seems to be the most insightful -- and plausible. Take a look at the following chart embedded in his must-read article:

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Conventional wisdom tells us that Republicans lost because they failed to reach out to Hispanics, African-Americans and young people. And to a certain extent that is undoubtedly true. But the truth is that a plurality of white voters simply didn’t vote. A passing glance at the chart above shows that more than six million white voters (who cast ballots 2008) stayed home in 2012 -- a sizable chunk of the electorate that overwhelmingly favored Mitt Romney this election cycle. Why? Because, according to Trende, while many white voters were eminently disenchanted with the president’s economic policies, Team Obama’s relentlessly negative campaign ads took a heavy -- and perhaps unexpected -- toll.

My sense is these voters were unhappy with Obama. But his negative ad campaign relentlessly emphasizing Romney’s wealth and tenure at Bain Capital may have turned them off to the Republican nominee as well. The Romney campaign exacerbated this through the challenger’s failure to articulate a clear, positive agenda to address these voters’ fears, and self-inflicted wounds like the “47 percent” gaffe. Given a choice between two unpalatable options, these voters simply stayed home
.

As Carol noted, it was a (fatal) mistake for Team Romney not to respond to the barrage of overwhelmingly negative campaign ads last summer that raised serious and unfair questions about the Republican candidate’s character, business career, and commitment to the less fortunate. These lies cemented the myth that Mitt Romney was a cold-hearted, greedy businessman who didn’t care about poor people in the public’s collective mind. Republicans, it seems, would do well to remember how these negative (and effective) campaign tactics impacted the 2012 election in years to come, especially because we now know -- if we didn’t before -- that the mainstream media is no ally of the Republican Party. Presidential candidates need to set the record straight themselves -- not wait for “journalists” to do it for them.

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This is not to say, however, that party elders can ignore the nation’s changing demographics. Put simply, the GOP cannot hope to win national elections by losing (give or take) 93 percent and 71 percent of the black and Hispanic vote, respectively. This is unacceptable. Republicans need to find a way to appeal to an increasingly diverse and heterogeneous electorate -- a reality I hope GOP operatives are already starting to think about.

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