Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney came pretty close, but in the end he lost the election to President Obama. Here are the four most important reasons, in my view.
His Etch a Sketch didn’t work. Romney waited and waited and then sprang his trap at the first debate, catching President Obama flat-footed when Romney suddenly reversed his previous positions on taxes on the spot—before an audience of 70 million people, many of whom were paying attention for the first time. That paid off in the polls for a while, but the president was able to whittle away at that in the last two debates by exposing the sharp contradictions between the severely conservative Romney of the primaries and the Moderate Mitt of the general election campaign. For Romney, in the end, it was a bridge too far.
Romney’s position on immigration and abortion drove off Latinos and women. He never came back to the center on immigration, holding to his extreme anti-immigration stance of the primary season. That helped him hold older anti-immigration white voters, but doomed his effort to win Hispanics, who went for Obama by huge margins. Similarly, Democrats successfully tied him to the extreme social conservative positions of candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock (and his own running mate, Paul Ryan). That likely kept away many women who might have voted for him on pocketbook issues, possibly the margin of victory in key swing states.
His stance on the auto bailout hurt him deeply. The New York Times editor who slapped the headline “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” on Romney’s now-notorious 2008 op-ed may have cost him the election. The piece said auto companies should go through a managed bankruptcy without government funds—the only way they could get funding in the depths of the financial crisis. Team Obama had a field day on that in Ohio and Michigan, forcing Romney to play defense. But politically, his position was indefensible: The president saved a critical industry and Romney was in favor of letting it go. One guess which view would carry Ohio.
There were too many questions about him. Throughout the summer, the Obama campaign cast Romney as a wax-mustached villain through attack ads on his record at Bain Capital, his tax returns, his tax shelters in the Cayman Islands, and his Swiss bank accounts. Though Romney was able to turn that perception around to a remarkable degree in the first debate, some of it stuck, depressing his likeability and especially voters’ perception that he couldn’t understand people like them.
Ultimately empathy and likeability matter—and voters gave the edge to the president on both those counts. The patrician Romney ultimately couldn’t persuade people he felt their pain and the president did, so more of them decided to stay the course. Whether they get the benefits in the next four years remains to be seen.
Also read: Four Reasons Why Obama Won