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Romney: The Man Who Wasn't There

Romney: The Man Who Wasn't There

By Robert Tracinski - December 9, 2012

The best analogy I have heard for the election is that it was Bizarro 2004. It's a reference to an old plotline from Superman cartoons about a kind of alternative Earth where everything is the opposite. The idea is that this is just like the 2004 Bush vs. Kerry contest, but with the parties reversed.

Here is how Sean Trende describes the analogy.

"One of the more intriguing narratives for election 2012 was proposed by political scientist Brendan Nyhan fairly early on: that it was 'Bizarro 2004.' The parallels to that year certainly were eerie: an incumbent adored by his base but with middling approval ratings nationally faces off against an uncharismatic, wishy-washy official from Massachusetts. The race is tight during the summer until the president breaks open a significant lead after his convention. Then, after a tepid first debate for the incumbent, the contest tightens, bringing the opposition tantalizingly close to a win, but not quite close enough."

The analogy to John Kerry's campaign highlights something that a lot of pundits and politically active people on the right managed to forget during the campaign: exactly how unappealing a candidate Mitt Romney really was. Republicans knew he was unappealing because they tried to find somebody, anybody else, nominating him only after all of the other candidates rendered themselves unacceptable. (It is still hard to project which of the other major candidates could have succeeded. If far-out views on rape and abortion helped sink two Republican Senate candidates, for example, imagine what this would have done to Rick Santorum.) But once Romney was clearly the nominee, Republicans had months to come to terms with that fact, to look through Romney's record and find good things about him, and to remind themselves that he was better than the alternative. By the time they were done, Republicans had pushed to the back of their minds most of the reasons why they had disliked him in the primaries.

But a lot of voters who are not so politically engaged did not go through that process. They still instantly disliked Romney, and his campaign never overcame that. This is what I take to be the meaning of all of those voters—including a couple hundred thousand rural conservatives in Ohio—who stayed home rather than vote for him. The final numbers on this, by the way, show that Romney did ultimately exceed John McCain's 2008 vote total—but just barely. Which confirms that Republican voters were about as unenthusiastic about Romney as they were about McCain.

Jay Cost sums up voters' general dissatisfaction.

"If a single question on the exit poll captured the country’s lack of enthusiasm for both candidates, it was, 'Who would better handle the economy?' Only 48 percent chose Obama. One would think that would sink the president’s reelection chances, but of the 49 percent who chose Romney, only 94 percent voted for him, with the rest backing Obama or a third-party candidate. The same thing happened with the deficit: slightly more voters picked Romney (49 percent) than Obama (47 percent) to handle that issue, but Romney won only 95 percent of voters who trusted him more. That is Election 2012 in a nutshell: voters did not trust Obama to handle the tough issues, but even less did they trust Romney to represent them in the Oval Office."

Why did voters dislike Romney? For the same reason Republicans initially disliked him, and for the same reason voters disliked Kerry. It was not because he is awkward or uncharismatic or even because he departs from conservative orthodoxy on one issue or another. It was because he is a serial flip-flopper who has changed his position on just about every issue.

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Robert Tracinski is editor of The Tracinski Letter and a contributor to RealClearMarkets.

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