Over the past week, Republicans of all stripes have been grappling with the reasons for Mitt Romney‘s defeat and the attendant ramifications. The post-election postmortems have been equal parts spin and soul-searching, reasoned analysis and recriminations. About the only conservative leader who hadn’t weighed in yet was Romney himself.
Now we know what Romney made of a defeat that so stunned the Republican nominee that he didn’t bother scratching out a concession speech beforehand.
In a conference call with top donors Wednesday afternoon, report Maeve Reston of the Los Angeles Times and Ashley Parker of the New York Times, Romney ascribed the loss to President Obama’s ability to sway blacks, Hispanics and young voters with “gifts.”
With each cohort, Romney argued, Obama was able to point to a “gift” that motivated them to support a second Obama term. Parker reports:
“In each case they were very generous in what they gave to those groups,” Mr. Romney said.
“With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest, was a big gift,” he said. “Free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008.”
Obama’s decision to give the children of some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship “was a huge plus for that voting group,” Romney suggested. The President’s health care overhaul, Romney said, also helped mobilize black and Hispanic voters for the President. His own campaign’s turnout models had assumed the voting rate of those groups — especially African American voters — would plummet after the heady thrill of 2008 wore off.
In the wake of the party’s fourth loss in six presidential elections, GOP elders have urged the party to closely examine its mistakes, including where its messaging veered off track. But Romney’s analysis — that Obama won by doling out largesse to Democratic special interest groups — masks the party’s structural problems. He may have been a killer consultant, able to pinpoint the shortcomings of other people’s organizations, but he has gaping blind spots when it comes to his own.
For one thing, the transactional aspect of politics works both ways. Some of the donors Romney was addressing on the call, as well as at the Boca Raton fundraiser where he made his damaging remarks about the 47% of Americans who considered themselves “victims,” presumably have their own interests in mind when they wrote those hefty checks. Perhaps they are motivated by Romney’s promise to lower their taxes, to reduce regulations on their industries, to preserve elements in the corporate code that benefit them. These are “huge” pluses as well.
Romney’s explanation for his defeat is also woefully simplistic. He didn’t lose Iowa or New Hampshire, two swings state filled with white voters, because Obama gave “gifts” to minorities. He lost, there and elsewhere, because 55% of women voted for his opponent. He didn’t lose African Americans because of Obamacare. Nor did he lose Hispanics because of the law; he lost them because his position on immigration during the primaries essentially boiled down to the words “self-deportation.” He lost because he tacked to the center too late. He lost because voters found him out of touch with their problems, a judgment reinforced by the caricature he paints of Obama supporters as grasping and self-interested. He lost because fewer people found him likable than his opponent. These comments may help explain why.