There was the 47% gaffe, the Libya gaffe, the convention speech gaffe and the etch-a-sketch gaffe, just to name a few. There is the tax rate problem, the tax shelter problem, the foreign investment problem, and the vulture capitalism/outsourcing problem (or is it offshoring?). There is the secretiveness issue, the arrogance issue, and the I don’t care about fact-checkers and I’ll do anything to get elected issue. There are the detail-lacking plans, the Massachusetts healthcare law, and the far-right policies and statements caused by the primary struggle.
(I didn’t mention all of the primary gaffes. Here they are for entertainment purposes).
But none of that is why Mitt Romney is getting pummeled in this election. If those were his problems, there would still be time to course correct and mount a comeback with a good debate performance or two. But his problems are deeper – and this election is over.
Here are the three fundamental problems Mitt Romney has:
1. Republicans Attacked Obama Hypercritically Too Early and Too Often
This is not Mitt Romney’s fault. It was a strategic mistake made by overzealous politicians and conservative commentators. The electorate absorbs continuous hypercritical attacks directed at a person for a finite period of time. Then, the electorate simply gets sick of the attacks. There were millions and millions of dollars in ads as well as countless television segments dedicated to bitterly blasting President Obama about his policies and all sorts of other garbage like his birth certificate from day one of Obama’s presidency. Those attacks worked like magic in that they dispensed with Obama’s popularity and political capital and made him less effective – not to mention allowing Republicans to take back the House. But, they struck too early – and they gave President Obama two years to recover at a time when the population was sick of the Obama-bashing that had kept him at bay. This early attack and oppose strategy by the Republicans stopped good work from getting it done – and it has also caused a huge advantage for the Obama campaign. The constant, ceaseless Obama-bashing in the Republican primaries did not help the cause. While Obama’s ads and arguments attacking Romney over the summer and into the fall have been fresh and effective, Romney has struggled to find material that the electorate hasn’t already heard.
Mitch McConnell changed his line from “single most important goal” to “single most important political goal,” but that did not stop Democrats from pouncing at the extremely early nature of his outward attempts to take out Obama.
2. Mitt Romney Assumed There Was an Appetite for Obama-Bashing
Mitt Romney’s basic appeal, which Wayne describes as the fundamental message of a campaign, is not a winning appeal. Mitt Romney assumed that he could just say that Obama’s economic policies have been a failure over and over again and it would win him the election. Constant Bush-bashing worked in 2008 for Barack Obama because he wasn’t up against President Bush, ironically. When you’re up against an incumbent, you need something more. Secondly, Romney’s basic appeal is centered on a message that President Obama sucks and doesn’t believe in America and that Romney knows the secrets to spurring economic growth. The problem is that, because Republicans struck way too early on the Obama-bashing, the Obama sucks and doesn’t believe in America line doesn’t carry much weight anymore. Romney has been, frankly, extremely ineffective at criticizing the President and accentuating the negative, as Wayne calls it. That may be surprising considering how effective Republicans had been doing it for three years prior. They struck too early.
3. Mitt Romney Left Obama Obama’s Most Effective Campaign Message
Pop quiz: Who’s campaign slogan is “Believe in America?” Answer: Mitt Romney’s. What? Yes, the guy that’s been going around being all bitter about the economy and constantly saying that America’s going downhill has a campaign slogan called “Believe in America.” Why in the heck did he not stick with it? If he went with that positive message (giving him the benefit of the doubt on that being designed as a positive message, maybe the message is designed to imply Obama doesn’t believe in America), he would have not left President Obama any space to run in. Obama would have been without a message and stuck with a poor economy while another guy was talking about hope and change. Instead, Mitt Romney got bitter and solidified an extremely bitter message throughout his convention. Obama stole his campaign slogan, Believe in America, and has run with it. Pundits say Obama’s hope and change thing is over. Not really, actually – you could make the argument his positive message about the future of America is why he is ahead right now. Sometimes picking a campaign message when you’re a challenger has to be about compromising the incumbent’s potentially successful message. Mitt Romney’s campaign apparently did not get that memo.
Conclusion: Mitt Romney’s done one thing in his campaign really, really well: raise money. Seriously, he has used ground-breaking data analyst from a firm he worked with at Bain to identify wealthy potential donors and get large chunks of money out of people who never donated before. Too bad (for him) he has completely wasted that money by not setting a good foundation for his campaign, a fatal flaw that has helped facilitate the day to day struggles that he has found himself in as of late.