Where it went wrong for Romney

 

Analysis:  Following an ugly and seemingly interminable presidential campaign, Mitt Romney's hopes of becoming the 45th president of the United States unravelled in just a few hours.

The political prize that eluded him in 2008, and his father four decades before, had seemed tantalisingly close. It was all the more remarkable give that his roller-coaster campaign threatened to come off the rails early on, before roaring back to life following his first energetic television debate.

But within hours of arriving in Boston to watch the results pour in with his family and advisors, the television networks had called the election for his rival.

What may rankle most with Romney is that the obstacles which prevented him from beating an incumbent saddled with high unemployment and a disappointing first election term were largely of his own making.

There were devastating wall-to-wall attacks from Democrats, to be sure, which sought to portray him as an elitist plutocrat who was all-too comfortable with bankrupting the US car industry.

But there was no one else to blame for the verbal gaffes, his comments about the 47 per cent of people on welfare, his failure to produce tax returns or his constant shape-shifting on fundamental policy issues.

Ultimately, voters never warmed or trusted him in sufficient numbers - and Romney never effectively made the case for himself.

47 per cent

The voice on the secretly recorded video was steady, and the message was severe. “There are 47 per cent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what,” he said at a private fundraiser.

“All right, there are 47 per cent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it,” Romney said. “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

It took Romney days to express regret at his comments.

Coming after a slew of ads that accused his investment company, Bain Capital, of vulture capitalism and outsourcing jobs, the damage was devastating, particularly among the blue-collar vote he so badly needed to secure.

Tax returns

Romney’s refusal to release more than two years of his tax returns gave Democrats even more ammunition. What he did release showed that he had paid a meagre 14 per cent, significantly less than average workers.

“What else is he hiding?” a narrator in an Obama ad asked viewers over the summer.

It was Romney’s decision not to release any earlier tax returns, on the basis that it would play into the hands of the Democrats’ campaign.

But it all hinted at a bigger problem.

Romney, the affluent son of a former car industry chief and state governor, was deeply uncomfortable discussing his wealth.

He did a good job of completing the caricature of a one per center by boasted that his wife had "a couple of Cadillacs" and making a $10,000 bet with his Republican primary rival, governor Rick Perry, over health care policy.

Bain Capital

Democrats spent millions of dollars during the summer portraying him as a vulture capitalist, happy to ship jobs overseas in order to maximise his financial returns.

Yet, these were the same ads - and in some cases, the same individuals - that had been used eight years earlier in his unsuccessful Senate campaign bid against Ted Kennedy.

Neither Romney, nor his campaign, insisted they were vastly exaggerated, but they never did enough to rebut them. The mud stuck. It hardly matters when he went on to tell voters at a rally in New Hampshire that he “liked to fire people”.

Shifting positions

It was no surprise that Romney would seek to make a play for the middle ground after securing a nomination.

But the sheer number of about-turns gave the impression of a candidate with no real conviction.

He largely disowned the health insurance policy introduced in Massachusetts as governor (which became the model for Obamacare) and embraced the coal industry he had denounced a few years earlier.

In order to appeal to the his Republican base, he renounced more liberal position he held in the past on abortion. It all allowed the Obama campaign to characterise these many changes as “Romnesia.” But voters - both Democrats and Republicans - didn’t forget these about-turns.

Lack of personality

Ironically, it was only during the final weeks of the campaign that some of Romney’s personality began to come through.

For most of the campaign, he had avoided revealing anything to do with Mormon faith besides clipped overall generalisations. Yet, there was aspects of it which reflected well on him.

His personal engagement with charities was considerable. He gave millions to voluntary groups and spent significant periods of time with ordinary church members, often allowing poorer visitors from abroad visiting Boston for medical attention to stay in his home.

All in all, Romney never gave the public a good enough reason to vote for him as a person. He never effectively made the case for Romney himself, instead allowing others to define him.

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