Just after the election, social- science-minded liberal and conservative pundits seem to agree about why President Obama won and Mitt Romney lost: changing demographics. The U.S. electorate is no longer dominated by ethnocentric, semi-literate white males and their obedient, loyal wives. The GOP can no longer afford to ignore or insult women, academia, urban America, Christian liberals, Hispanics, African Americans, gays, and just about everyone else. They are going to have to reach out to at least some other people or else they will cease to be nationally important and become a regional party – primarily a party of the deep South and the Great Plains. Soon even Texas, where the deep South and the Great Plains meet, will be a swing state.
I hope that all of that is right. But I think the Republicans, and Romney in particular, also lost on the issues. The only clear, consistent themes in Romney’s campaign were that he was going to give tax breaks to the wealthy, cut spending, and repeal “Obamacare.” A large number of Americans understood that if Romney was going to give tax breaks to the wealthy and cut spending, then he was going to have to hurt most other Americans to pay for it. As for Obamacare, many Americans who hated it must have known that even as president, Romney wouldn’t have the power to repeal it, and many other Americans do not hate Obamacare. Indeed, most Americans like Obamacare, when it is presented to them piece by piece. Finally, it wasn’t just liberals who noticed that Romney was the ultimate weather-vane, changing positions according to whatever he thought his audiences wanted to hear. Many moderates, and even some conservatives, noticed it too. By election day, Romney had two special messages. His message to the general public was that he did not mean the things he told conservatives. He had to say those things to win their support. His message to conservatives was that he did not mean the things he said to the general public. He had to say those things to win their support. Who was supposed to believe him, the general public or conservatives? It is not surprising that Romney lost. What is surprising is that he was not far behind in the popular vote.