Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Why Did Mitt Romney Lose, and Is It Relevant?

Yes, it's relevant.

My take on why Mitt Romney lost has always revolved around the fact that he was a flawed candidate, and heaven knows he wasn't very good. But why was someone who was good enough for Harvard, good enough for Wall Street, good enough for the Mormon Church, good enough for the Olympics, good enough for Massachusetts, and, inevitably good enough for the Republican Party, not good enough for a majority of the American people on November 6th, 2012?

An article about the coming Netflix documentary called "Mitt" got me thinking.

Mitt Romney: a lion in winter, or a cub scout?

Let me say in advance that I abhorred most of Romney's positions, just as the article's author, Paul Waldman, makes clear. I felt a visceral disconnect between Mitt Romney the man and the American people who need to rely on leadership to take them, not necessarily to the promised land but at least to a spot somewhat better than the one they are currently occupying.

Mitt Romney was not that man. But, if he lost because he was flawed, why was he flawed? Waldman points to an answer. It was because, as he got close to that brass ring, as he could smell a lifelong dream coming true, the ground shifted beneath his feet. The Republican Party shifted, but good.

Romney was the classic, almost too perfect, establishment Republican. Unfortunately, that Republican Party, which did exist in its basic shape since mid-20th-century America, no longer existed in 2012. It had morphed into an army of angry Christian white men and their supplicant wives, likely because John McCain lost to a black man. Thus emerged a set of extremists not only ready to cash in on the angst of the tattered GOP -- think Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and a frightening array of super PACs -- but also ready to take advantage of the angry Christian white men who were "losing America," who were ready to vote against their own interests because Republicans, I suppose, looked and talked more like them.

Mitt Romney now needed to harness the energy of that Republican Party without alienating moderates, women, Hispanics, African-Americans, and Jews, and he couldn't do it. He could have won in some alternate universe, some Pleasant Valley, U.S.A. landscape filled with trees that were just the right height, women who admired their men, and men with jaws as strong as, well, Mitt Romney's.

That world is gone, for now, and so is Mitt Romney. I can't say I'll miss him. I can say that the Republican Party that left Mitt behind is a witch's brew of ignorance and malcontentment, and I like it a lot less than the flawed candidate it helped to defeat.

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