21 Reasons for Obama's Victory and Romney's Defeat

By Tom Bevan and Carl M. Cannon - November 7, 2012

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Romney’s father was a popular governor of Michigan, a 1968 presidential candidate, and the CEO of a car company. But with even Ford Motor Company’s president supporting the bailout of his competitors (he was worried about Ford’s own suppliers), Romney’s connection to the state seemed weaker than Obama’s. In 2011 and 2012, Chrysler ran evocative Super Bowl ads emphasizing the comeback narrative. The 2011 edition was set to music by Eminem. This year’s was narrated by Clint Eastwood.

“The people of Detroit know a little something about this,” says the gravelly voiced film star. “They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together. Now Motor City is fighting again.”

Obama is not referenced directly in the ad, but he doesn’t have to be. After talking about problems caused by “the fog of division, discord and blame,” Eastwood adds: “We find a way through tough times, and if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one. Detroit's showing us it can be done.”

4. Romney’s Take on the Auto Bailout: In a 2008 op-ed for the New York Times that Romney’s staff swears the ex-governor wrote himself, Romney advocated a “managed bankruptcy” for the troubled car maker, with the federal government assuring “guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing” as the companies emerged from Chapter 11. Romney also called for management “as is” to be replaced.

All of this was subsequently done -- even down to replacing the troubled car companies’ executives: The task force appointed by Obama replaced the troubled automakers’ management. So why the perception that Romney opposed the president?

Three reasons, mostly. First, while Romney wanted to use bankruptcy to rein in the United Auto Workers, Obama used the process to reward the unions, and strengthen them. Second, instead of embracing what the president and he had in common, Romney harped on the differences in their approach. The third was . . .

5. The New York Times’ Take on Romney’s Take on the Bailout: The problem here was the headline, which read simply, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” That wasn’t inaccurate, exactly, but it was very nearly the opposite of the piece’s tenor.

“I love cars, American cars,” Romney wrote. “I was born in Detroit, the son of an auto chief executive. In 1954, my dad, George Romney, was tapped to run American Motors when its president suddenly died. The company itself was on life support -- banks were threatening to deal it a death blow. The stock collapsed. I watched Dad work to turn the company around -- and years later at business school, they were still talking about it.”

Romney would reprise this theme in his third debate with Obama, only to be met with eye rolls and interruptions from the president, who took to the hustings the next day to accuse his opponent of having “Stage 3 Romnesia.”

There is some evidence that this line of attack was effective. Romney never seriously competed for Michigan -- he probably would have been better served setting up his headquarters there -- and the ripple effects in Ohio were evident: Exit polls showed that by a 59-36 percent margin voters approved of the auto bailout, and by implication, disapproved of their perception of Romney’s stance. The upshot was that Romney failed to carry either his native Michigan or his adopted home state of Massachusetts, and no presidential nominee has ever won without carrying his home base.

6. Killing Osama bin Laden: It happened way back in May 2011, when the Republican presidential field was still forming, but its ramifications became clear as the consulate in Libya lay smoldering 16 months later.

As the news broke that night, Americans just gravitated toward the White House. The president’s poll ratings didn’t dramatically spike upward (as they would for an attack on our soil), but after that night it was hard for Republicans to make the case that Barack Obama was soft on terrorism.

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Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics. Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Editor for RealClearPolitics.

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