…is a losing one.
I remember my sinking feeling when, during the run-in to the 2012 campaign, each person I thought had a chance to win refused to run, until all of them had been eliminated from the race. Never mind who they were; my list of good candidates would probably have been different from yours, anyway. Let’s just say that for me, Mitt Romney was not among them. The point is that when the slate shaped up, and the Republican debates begin, I was stunned at what a weak field it was.
That’s not to say they were weak people. Each had many admirable traits, each had strengths. But it was pretty clear that all of them would have big problems beating Obama, who inexplicably remained popular and charismatic (that is, popular enough, and charismatic enough).
I thought Romney was the best prospect of the bunch. Still do. Unfortunately, he had flaws: somewhat wooden, not good at articulating conservative principles, mega-rich white guy, Bain history, label of flip-flopper, and even his extraordinary handsomeness which bordered on the unreal.
I also knew (and everybody knew) that whoever was the eventual nominee would be the subject of a relentless attack machine the likes of which we’ve hardly ever seen before in our lifetimes in this country—unless you count what was mounted against Sarah Palin in 2008. That was the incredibly successful template. The details would be different—because each candidate’s vulnerabilities are different—but the strategy would be the same: “Kill Mitt”—or “Kill Sarah,” or “Kill” whomever the nominee would be.
It worked. For example, unmarried women became deathly afraid that Republicans would take away their contraceptive rights (and by the way, Limbaugh’s attack on Sarah Fluke didn’t help the Republican cause any in that regard, although he’s a free agent and not a party representative). It also worked (mostly, the Bain and elitist stuff) to depress the working class Republican vote in swing states like Ohio that could have put Mitt over the top.
Romney tried to counter the attacks, but it was too little, too late. I’m not at all sure, however, that anything would have helped. When a campaign is willing to get as dirty as Obama’s was willing to get, as well as to lie, and especially when the MSM backs that campaign up, it’s extraordinarily difficult to fight back without seeming mean yourself. That’s especially hard when fighting a sitting president with 50% approval.
There’s a great quote attributed to LBJ, a man who knew an awful lot about politics:
Legend has it that LBJ, in one of his early congressional campaigns, told one of his aides to spread the story that Johnson’s opponent f***ed pigs. The aide responded “Christ, Lyndon, we can’t call the guy a pigf***er. It isn’t true.” To which LBJ supposedly replied “Of course it ain’t true, but I want to make the son-of-a-bitch deny it.”
So even fighting back against attacks by denying them, and explaining the truth, tends to give them legs. When an opponent is willing to say anything to destroy you (including that you helped someone to die of cancer in some circuitous way), then you’re already in trouble. Romney actually fought back against some of this stuff, but it was more or less like a game of whack-a-mole that never ended, and the cumulative effect was to weaken him.
But don’t kid yourself—they would have had a field day with any of these candidates, just in different ways. We can’t wait around for the perfect candidate to present him/herself. Not going to happen. So I’m asking you to stop the incrimination and blaming, because the other side feasts on the petty and counterproductive squabbling we’ve been having among ourselves since Tuesday. That doesn’t mean criticism is off limits—criticism is encouraged. What went wrong? How could it go right next time? It’s solutions we’re after, not divisiveness.
Of course, we could come up with great solutions and suggestions here, and that doesn’t mean anyone will take them up next time. But word spreads, and there are ways to be heard if an idea is good enough.