Some elections are close. This one wasn’t. Even as Karl Rove tried to deny reality and other conservatives attempted to digest the ill news, it became apparent that this was hardly even a contest. Ceding only North Carolina and Indiana back to Republicans from his initial election, it was obvious pretty early on in election night that it was going to be Obama’s night.
What was remarkable was how most Republicans had no idea that such a victory for the Democrats was coming. It wasn’t simply a psychological ploy that Romney had no concession speech prepared on election night…he truly believed he was going to win, and the Fox News spin machine (Looking at you Dick Morris) played right into that. Most Fox pundits, and even Romney’s own advisors, were predicting landslide victories for the Republican nominee.
The resounding Democratic victory has led to the words “soul searching” being written about sixty million times over the past week and a half as the media have attempted to describe the pall that now resides over the GOP. It has also allowed many people the time to reflect on what happened, and try to offer their explanation for the results.There are a myriad of reasons that people have put forward as to why the President was able to win an historic re-election in the face of high unemployment and a sluggish economy. They range from the unhinged (voter fraud and intimidation in Philadelphia – thank you Gretchen Carlson) to the simple reason that a majority of Americans thought that Obama did a good enough job to warrant four more years.
Then there is Mitt Romney.
By all accounts, Romney was gracious and humble in his concession speech, which seemed to show a certain amount of grace in defeat. Then he had to answer to the money. Romney held a private conference call with his donors this week to address his defeat and try to save some face with the men who had bankrolled his campaign. He was able to reflect on the reasons why he lost the election, and seemed to settle one reason:
“What the president’s campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote, and that strategy worked.”
Essentially, his argument is that he had no chance to win because the Obama administration lavished these “extraordinary gifts” on members of his coalition to solidify them as a voting block. How could Romney compete with an incumbent that was just handing out free money? I mean, that’s not what a twenty percent tax cut across the board would do, right?
He even delved into more detail:
“Whether it was free contraceptives for 18 to 29 year-old women, DREAM Act waivers, student loan interest rate cuts for college students, and other initiatives geared toward energizing their coalition. They succeeded….It’s a proven political strategy, which is give a bunch of money to a group and, guess what, they’ll vote for you. … Immigration we can solve, but the giving away free stuff is a hard thing to compete with.”
Let’s take a look at each of these examples in turn. The election post-mortem clearly showed that Romney lost women in a big way, by double digits, in fact. Women accounted for 53 percent of the voters, and they overwhelming preferred Obama. But was this due to their free contraception? Possibly. I’m sure that a lot of women are happy that birth control will have to be covered under their health insurance plan as part of the healthcare bill, but I doubt that is the only reason. Obama’s support of, and Romney’s indifference to, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act might have been a deal breaker. The first bill that Obama signed into law in 2009 was a bill that guaranteed women equal pay for equal work. Romney never said whether he supported it, simply that he would not repeal it. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
But even if that wasn’t a deal breaker, there were plenty of reasons women could have found to not vote for Romney. Could be his support of the bill that would require women to disclose to their employers the reason they needed to have birth control. Or it could have been his endorsements of Todd “legitimate rape” Aiken, and Richard “rape babies are God’s plan” Mourdoch. And I doubt Romney’s “binders full of women” helped either. While I am sure that some 18 to 29 year old women voted Obama because they appreciated his focus on women’s health issues, to say that “free contraception” wrapped up the women vote is myopic.
One of the most interesting facts about this election was that if Romney had earned the same share of the Hispanic vote that Bush did in 2000, he would have won the election. However, Obama was able to capture 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, and according to Romney, this was entirely the result of the DREAM Act waivers that he instituted in August. What the Obama administration’s waivers did was allow illegal immigrants that had been brought to the United States as children and grown up here apply for waivers that would prevent them from being deported. The criteria are fairly tough. You must be under thirty, have been brought her before you were sixteen, have lived here for five years, have no criminal record, and have earned a High School degree or served in the military. If you are able to accomplish those things and get your application approved, the Obama administration won’t deport you for at least two years.
This is perhaps the most outrageous aspect of Romney’s comments. Allowing someone who was brought to the US by no fault of their own to be able to stay here is not a gift. It is sound policy. It is a policy that even Rick Perry supported in the Republican primaries, going as far to say that if you did not help provide an education to these kids, you have no heart. This is not “giving away free stuff” as Romney stated, it is providing a real and humane solution to a national problem.
For the sake of argument, even if Obama had not enacted the DREAM Act waivers this year, do you think Romney would have been able to capture a higher share of the Hispanic vote when his stated position on immigration was to make life so difficult for illegal immigrants that they would voluntarily self-deport themselves? How Romney thought that was a tenable position in a nation of over 50 million Hispanics is difficult to comprehend. Perhaps Romney’s electoral drubbing was more to do with his antipathy for the plight of all immigrants (legal and illegal) and not the “free gift” that was Obama’s promise not to deport them for two years.
Which brings us to the third “free gift” lavished upon the Democratic base, which was the student loan interest rate cuts. Although “cuts” is a kind of misnomer. For the full history, you must realize that in September of 2007, President Bush signed a bill into law that cut the interest rates on federal student loans from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent. That law was set to expire this summer, and students were faced with the prospect of seeing their rates double, resulting in an average of $1,000 a year more in interest payments. Congress and President Obama worked out a deal to extend those cuts.
It wasn’t a free gift given to students, it was an extension of benefits that they had obtained under a Republican President. This was a fact that wasn’t lost on Republican candidates like Mitt Romney when he said earlier this summer, “particularly with the number of college graduates that can’t find work or that can only find work well beneath their skill level, I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans.”
In front of a camera, Romney believes that the extension of low interest rates was vital to supporting college graduates struggling to find jobs. After an election that he lost, that same extension becomes free money that Obama gave out to young people to persuade them to vote for the incumbent. It’s amazing what a few months can do to alter perspective.
But the bottom line here is that what Romney said simply isn’t true. Not only did it denigrate constructive policies implemented by the Obama administration as “giving away free stuff” but it is factually, empirically false. The Washington Post crunched the numbers and found that in the key demographics that Romney alluded to, young voters age 18-29, African Americans, Hispanics, and unmarried women, Obama performed worse than he did in 2008 with all of those groups except Hispanics. He lost six points with young voters compared to 2008, two points with African-Americans, and three points with unmarried women.
It would stand to reason that if Obama was really giving away “free gifts” to those groups, he should have been able to count on them to support him at least at the 2008 levels. But the evidence speaks otherwise. Remember, the charge that Romney is levelling is that Obama is just giving away free money by providing contraception coverage, not deporting the children of illegal immigrants and keeping student loan rates low. Contrast that with Romney’s promise to cut everyone’s tax rates by 20 percent, and it seems clear who was actually promising to give away money.
By shifting the blame of the election loss to Obama’s alleged pandering to the “takers” in the 47 percent, Romney is able to justify his loss without having to take a look in the mirror. The real reason that Romney lost was because he was never able to connect with the voters. His idea of reality was so far removed from the day to day struggles that the middle class deals with everyday that it was hard to imagine him as one of us. He was inauthentic, and his sprint to the dark sides of conservatism during the Republican primaries wasn’t able to be negated by his shift to the center in the general election.
It was obvious that the relationship that Romney had with Republicans was most appropriately described as a rental. Despite his track record that placed him in the moderate middle, Romney was renting the conservative wing of Republican party to use them to fulfill his life’s ambition to be President. Likewise, even though they were wary of his “Massachusetts Moderate” label, the Republicans rented Romney to fulfill their ambition of unseating President Obama. This election wasn’t about the free gifts that Obama lavished upon his constituents, it was about the fact that the Republican’s idea cabinet is bare, and people understood that “say no to Obama” was not a governing philosophy, and an out of touch elitist was not the right choice to lead to nation.
These comments further cement Romney’s label as a disconnected rich guy by again writing off large portions of the electorate as groups that can be bought by government handouts. And judging by the negative reaction that Romney’s comments are generating from the GOP establishment, it is clear that some of his former allies are beginning to side with the voters as well.