Mitt Romney = A Truly Historic Failure

There are a number of reasons why U.S. “Conservative Movement” activists are suddenly declaring Mitt Romney to be “the worst major-party nominee since World War II.”

For one: Unlike the previous GOP nominee, John McCain, Mitt Romney fared exceptionally poorly given the mood of the country. Recall that McCain ran against a tide of anti-George W. Bush sentiment, and was forced on several occasions to awkwardly distinguish himself from his would-be predecessor — whom McCain had challenged with some success in the 2000 GOP presidential primary. Then the financial markets crashed circa September 2008, just as most Americans were beginning to pay sustained attention to the presidential race. Reasonably enough, the Wall Street meltdown was blamed largely on Bush, who by that point had been in office for nearly eight years and whom even most Republicans were sick of. (When he left office in January 2009, GWB recorded the worst approval rating, 22%, in the history of modern polling.)

So, in 2008, many Americans associated the huge economic problems plaguing the country with Bush, and this had a detrimental impact on McCain’s electoral hopes, because he was a member of the same party as the most unpopular president in modern history. For what it’s worth, compounding his woes, McCain was also thought to have run an inept, erratic general election campaign (by contrast, his 2008 GOP primary campaign was excellent, after overcoming initial struggles.) Matched against Obama, the elderly war-torn senator made a number of “unforced errors,” such as when he bizarrely declared his campaign “suspended” in response to the emergency situation on Wall Street. After being widely mocked over this, McCain apologized for making the foolish pronouncement. (There was also that time he forgot how many properties he owned — at least 8). Nonetheless, McCain overperformed relative to these unfavorable circumstances.

It was the opposite situation in 2012 with Mitt Romney — Romney severely underperformed given the external conditions, which were favorable to any opponent of Barack Obama‘s. The economy is merely “limping along,” as Paul Ryan noted in his debate with Joe Biden, which — theoretically — ought to endanger the incumbent president. But McCain ultimately outperformed Romney by approximately 700,000 popular votes.

The results are in: Mitt Romney ran against an exceptionally weak incumbent president and failed to capitalize on what should have been an easy opportunity to regain power for the GOP. Romney’s campaign “Business Strategy” was an unmitigated catastrophe, like something out of a far-fetched satirical novel. (No doubt all the countless “strategic planning meetings” held over the course of Romney’s 6+ year quest were productive.) Ah yes, the supposedly business-savvy Mitt’s entire “Get Out the Vote” operation crashed on Election Day, the only day it needed to work. This left 30,000 prospective Romney volunteers with nothing to do on November 6 but wallow in confusion and anger. Perhaps the unprecedentedly disastrous turnout operation — known as “Project Orca” — faltered because Romney’s campaign announced the adoption of this brand-new system with about one week to go before the election. Anyone remotely familiar with on-the-ground politicking could have told Mitt that this’d be a logistical nightmare. Sure enough, the worst possible scenario came true and the whole thing simply imploded. (Conversely, the Obama campaign and its Democratic Party offshoot, Organizing for America, had been cultivating its own sophisticated “Get Out the Vote” operation since 2007).

Romney proved sufficiently adept at running for CEO of the GOP, but he floundered epically against the “Community Organizer-in-Chief.”

Romney was also undone in by his campaign’s destructive and (I’m not exaggerating) wicked media strategy. In June 2012, Romney operatives announced that they would coordinate with “Breitbart News” to disseminate their daily talking points. Said Romney campaign spokesman Lenny Alcivar:

“The governor will no longer allow the mainstream media to dictate the terms of this debate. This is just the beginning… We are witnessing the rise of the center right media.”

By this, he presumably meant that Mitt Romney had personally ordered the strategy: ignore all normal journalistic inquiries and instead partner with Breitbart News, a propaganda conspiracy hate site. The article went on:

Citing John Nolte’s work exposing lies and hypocrisy in the mainstream media, Alcivar praised the efforts of Breitbart News in holding journalists accountable for their actions. “The senior White House correspondent for Politico is no longer there. The Romney camp didn’t do that, it was Breitbart. It sends a big signal. That wouldn’t have happened without Breitbart.“

OK, seriously, I followed John Nolte on Twitter during the campaign, and that gentleman is truly unhinged. He was completely wrong about everything, promoted “Poll Trutherism,” and dutifully spouted every conceivable anti-Obama talking point without scrutiny and in the crassest possible manner. One could tell that the majority of this individual’s info had been drawn from FOX News, talk radio, and so forth.

Nolte is a good personification of what “Breitbart News” and the rest of the GOP’s vengeful, nasty media apparatus are really all about: instilling as much anger and fear in the populace as possible. Reading the Romney campaign’s declaration from June, you can see that this was all by design. Mitt himself praised as “brilliant” the late Andrew Breitbart, a conspiracy theorist hate-monger who poisoned the minds of millions with his journo-provocateur exploits. The Romney campaign also singled out and praised Nolte for his work as their chosen propagandist. So let’s just be clear about what happened here: Romney coordinated with “Breitbart News” to spread vicious anti-Obama conspiracy theories, including theories that called Obama’s ancestry into question and painted the president’s vision of government as so profoundly “foreign” that his reelection would literally doom America for all eternity.

Reading through Breitbart comment threads after the election has been mind-boggling (even by Breitbart’s mind-bogglingly low standards). That site is really among the most depraved underbellies of the Internet.

Bill O’Reilly, ordinarily more cautious, has echoed Breitbart’s apocalyptic credo, announcing this week that “Traditional America” is basically done for. But this is nothing new. Romney himself repeatedly fed these fears by never doing anything to allay them, as John McCain had, but also by actually financing and encouraging their proliferation. Recall when Mitt cracked a joke about Obama’s supposedly missing birth certificate. Recall his accusation that Obama was waging a “War on Religion” to extirpate Christianity. Recall that propaganda films like Dinesh D’Souza‘s blockbuster smash hit 2016: Obama’s America were shown at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, and Romney never said anything publicly to distance himself from D’Souza’s hugely popular bigoted nonsense.

Rather, in concert with a ferocious right-wing noise machine, Romney devised a strategy of flushing the electorate with as many hysterical lies as possible, hoping enough bile would stick to get him over the finish line. When Romney slurred the commander-in-chief as a jihadist-sympathizer during a major diplomatic crisis in September, he certainly sent a clear message to a particular unsavory contingent of the GOP base: “You see? Obama so hates this country that he sympathizes with the jihadists, not the murdered Americans. He will destroy our Nation forever if reelected. Vote Mitt.”

Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review and Bloomberg View is one of the few conservative media figures to produce a coherent pro-Romney case without relying on anti-Obama rage, conspiracy theories about the president’s racial and religious heritage, or false belligerent memes finely-sculpted by Conservative Media into easily-digestible talking points (for instance: the debunked idea that “Obamaphones” were widely distributed as a bribe to black voters, the debunked idea that spending on social welfare programs had exploded under Obama, the debunked idea that Obama somehow orchestrated his reelection by encouraging massive “voter fraud” and then ordering the “Mainstream Media” to cover up his prodigious misdeeds).

Here is what Ponnuru now has to say about the Republican Party, which beyond Romney’s historic failure, also suffered major blows on both the Congressional and state-level:

All these candidates lost not because of the idiosyncrasies of this or that candidate or the flaws of this or that faction of the Republican party. They lost not because of the particular vices of the Tea Party, or of social conservatives, or of the party establishment. The most logical explanation for the pattern is that something common to all Republicans brought them down, and the simplest explanation is that their party is weak — and has been for a long time. Consider the evidence: Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. Since the Senate reached its current size, Democrats have had more than 55 seats 13 times; Republicans, never.

This helps explain why “Conservative Movement” media apparatchiks such as John Fund and his cohort at the mercilessly authoritarian National Review magazine were always so very insistent about the need to combat “voter fraud” — a total fantasy by all reasonable accounts. There is no “voter fraud” problem bedeviling America, at least in the sense put forward by Fund & Co. It’s no coincidence that Voter ID law templates first arose only after Obama took office. As its sponsors have freely admitted, these laws are intended to suppress the franchise of eligible Democratic-leaning constituencies. (There were reports that Pennsylvania GOP operatives successfully scared off some likely Democratic voters by spreading misinformation about the Voter ID requirement, which had been blocked by the state judiciary and was not supposed to be in effect).

To get a sense of the real dynamics at play here, behind all the GOP’s bad-faith talking points, consider what a popular Romney partisan on Twitter, Kevin Eder, recently wrote: “The idea that sporadic, ignorant, marginal Democrat voters get a month to vote is just ludicrous.” This is a very common view on the American right-wing — criteria for voting should be as stringent as possible, to weed out the undesirables. Discerning GOP elites understood all along that the polling data was turning against them this election cycle, so these elites determined that in order to win they’d have to impede voters from voting. (Republicans have also refused to invest in moderately-functional polling equipment or nationwide standards for vote tabulation, meaning that many people, including those in swing states, were forced to wait up to seven hours to vote on Election Day. By the way, that’s the mark of failing state, not a thriving democracy.)

Because the establishmentarian GOP’s guiding philosophy is to accrue ever-expanding power to itself without regard for any semblance of philosophical principle, it functions with an intense disdain for empirical reality. One of the amazing ironies of the 2012 U.S. elections is that the known perpetrators of “voter fraud” were themselves Republicans acting under the guise of combating voter fraud. In truth, those who trumpeted the “voter fraud” myth care nothing about “voter fraud” per se — they care about making it as difficult as possible for disaffected people to vote, because, again, those people tend to vote Democratic.

Another thing to keep in mind is that folks like Karl Rove, Dinesh D’Souza, Rush Limbaugh, and others are speaking not from a good-faith analytical standpoint, but a standpoint of self-interest — making maximum profits. Karl Rove’s brand might have lost grist in GOP circles due to his abysmal failures this year and childish refusal to concede defeat on live television, but Rove certainly raked in the dough regardless. And his antics ensured continued money-making opportunities — books, television appearances, Internet ventures, speeches, whatever. Rove might have deluded himself into believing that the consultants who dwell within the GOP’s fantasyland bubble were correct that Romney stood a strong chance of winning, when in reality any minimally-competent interpreter of polls knew that this was not in fact the case and Obama was always a strong favorite, going back to last spring when the economy began improving in earnest.

The reality of this election is that Mitt Romney’s attempts to poison Americans’ hearts with hate backfired. Instead, his insertion of himself into the hate-peddling right-wing media complex distorted his own reality, and Mitt apparently never saw the resounding defeat coming. This is a consequence of the GOP’s dangerous alternative universe. It generates lots of money, but it hurts the country. I know I am personally sick of my 90-year-old grandmother constantly being frightened by FOX News.

About michaeltracey

Journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Follow me on Twitter at @mtracey.

  • Holytape

    Mitt Romney was flawed, but he wasn’t the worst.  It’s just sour grapes.  Those conservatives can’t believe that their philosophy or that their idea lost in a general election.  They can’t come to grips with the idea that most Americans think they’re wrong.  So therefor it must be the candidate’s fault.  When presented with evidence that their ideas aren’t working, it’s never the idea that are wrong, but it’s always because those ideas weren’t followed close enough.  

  • pagansister

    The statements made by Romney in the last few days just proves  he was a poor loser.  His comments were, IMO, raciest and arrogant.  I’m so happy he wasn’t elected. 

  • Jason Torpy

    I’ve always said that Republicans threw the 2008 election. Huckabee said the Bible should replace the Constitution. That’s what they’re all thinking, but it can’t be said. Ron Paul isn’t wrong but he is irrelevant. They went with John McCain of McCain-Feingold. He sold out in 2006 for the nomination and they were happy to give it to him even though he had fought his own party for the previous 20 or 30 years. They didn’t want him to win. Just to be sure, they gave him Palin.
    Romney was a good candidate in that he had business experience, government executive experience, religious faith, and a moderate background. I don’t think most Republicans liked him at all (Mormons aren’t really Christians in their eyes), but the Tea Partiers and crazy-eyed Fundies he ran against were off the deep end. They threw the 2008 election, but I think in this case they had a losing candidate accidentally. Even with the Republican Billionaires and political (evil) geniuses, they couldn’t pull it out with a flip-flopping, corporate raider polytheist.

  • DKeane123

     I agree with many of the points, but what does this have to do with atheism? 

  • Michael Tracey

    Why are some atheists so annoyed to read about anything that isn’t explicitly linked with “atheism”?

  • DKeane123

    Didn’t say I was annoyed.  But I can understand why someone coming to a site called the “Friendly Atheist” might not be interested in strictly political posts.  I get most of my political new elsewhere, so this would be “doubling up” for me at least.

  • Michael Tracey

    Any atheist should be interested in the activities of the Religious Right / GOP

  • Jack Jesberger

    Superb article.  Ponnuru is right.  The party is weak. In fact it’s probably weaker than he imagines.  It’s surviving on alternating transfusions of dark money from an incredibly thin slice at the top of the economic ladder, gerrymandering, racism, and increasingly irrational propagandist media operations (not to mention any lingering effects of the attempted purge of K-street of democrats).  GOP successes increasingly tend to come in smaller scale balloting like interim elections or those for state legislature which can be swayed by outside money and effort more easily.

    Exactly what would the GOP be if taken off this life-support network?

  • Coyotenose

     McCain himself chose Palin, without consulting his people.

  • The Captain

    Not much, but because the new crop of contributors her (not Hemmant) are less concerned with promoting skepticism/atheism than they are their political views.

  • disembodiedprose

     Polytheist or polygamist? Or both? Haha.

  • trivialknot

    Calling Romney the worst candidate sounds like present-ist exaggeration.  For the most part we simply don’t remember all the losing presidential candidates of the last seventy years.  If you look at old electoral college maps, you don’t have to go very far back before finding huge landslides.  There must’ve been some pretty terrible candidates to lose so badly!

  • Michael Tracey

    There is certainly a tendency for pundits to oversell the importance of recent events, but I think the “worst candidate since World War II” theory is still accurate. Name one candidate who performed more poorly than Romney relative to the circumstances he was faced with.

  • Guest

    “Any True Scotsman…”

  • trivialknot

    Everyone reads some, and skips some.  I’ve stopped reading blogs when I’ve found that I skip most of their content, and that’s that.  It doesn’t need to be a thing.

  • Michael Tracey

    Yeah, but I didn’t say “Any True Atheist” should be interested in the activities of the Religious Right / GOP, I said that in my view, any atheist ought to be interested in these activities.

  • DKeane123

    I agree, this is a blog and the people that run it can post anything they like, just an observation.

  • trivialknot

    It seems to me like mine is the null hypothesis here!

    In any case, I just don’t see the point of the exaggeration.  Regardless of the history of the last century, it is true that Romney did poorly relative to economic predictors.  Looking at fivethirtyeight’s “state fundamentals” predictions (which are based on economic and political conditions rather than polling) Romney did moderately worse than expected.  And yes, we can come up with many reasonable post-hoc explanations for that fact.

    It didn’t help that most of Romney’s competition in the primaries was crazy, and politically nonviable.  That was a recipe for mediocrity.  The Republican strategy of moving further and further to the right is collapsing on itself.

  • John F

    Hemant does a good job of remembering that the internet has no geographical boundaries and that many of his readership are international. British, Australian, Canadian and New Zealanders (and many others) all regularly post comments on this blog, all united under the banner of scepticism. Hemant posts news of atheism-related issuers in the US, but intersperses them with stores from all over the world, such as the recent sad story from Ireland.

    Problems with explicitly American off-topic posts like this are that they are generally alienating to non-American readers. Too many posts like this and we start to drift of elsewhere…

  • Holytape

     If you’re not interested, then don’t read.

  • The Captain

    Walter Mondale! 


  • Michael Tracey

    Walter Mondale was a poor candidate, but he didn’t significantly underperform a generic Democratic candidate. Romney performed worse than we would have expected a generic GOP candidate to perform against Obama.

    You may have a point with McGovern, but McGovern had a lasting impact beyond the 1972 election by inspiring legions of young people who would later take the reins of the Democratic Party (including Bill Clinton). Mitt Romney inspired no one.

  • Isilzha

    Why does that even matter?  Don’t like the title of the post, don’t read the article.  It’s not difficult!

  • jose

    He was their strongest candidate for the general public and he would have won if he had not been held back by the crazies in the religious right who forced him to adopt their crazy social policies in order to win the primary.

    Everybody talks about the 47%, but that didn’t stop middle class men from voting for him. The effect of that was insignificant compared to the effect of the religious right’s policies. They are the ones hurting the republican party.

  • Michael Tracey

    He wasn’t the strongest 2012 GOP candidate. Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry both would have stood a better chance against Obama than Romney — one of Romney’s big problems is that he failed to drive up turnout among GOP base voters, which Perry would have done easily.

  • Cecelia Baines

    So Michael, did you write this or is this taken off Huff Post? Because this was posted at several news sources. If you are plagiarizing, not cool. Totally not cool.

  • Michael Tracey

    Yes, I wrote it. Can you please post links to the other news sources in question?

  • cathouseumbrella

    Rick Perry? Seriously? Nobody outside of Texas would have voted for that dumbass.

  • Michael Tracey

    Remember: Americans voted to reelect George W. Bush

  • pagansister

     One of the most stupid moves on our (USA)’s part—glad to say I wasn’t one who voted for “W” either time! 

  • Deven Kale


  • Robster

    It was two simple things, his name is Mittens and he’s a member of a rather looney religious cult called Mormonism. Those outside the US salute the voters for having the insight to not hand the leadership of the free world to a bloke who believes, really believes, in magic underwear and that he’ll get a planet and a godship after death. Really, just how would it be to have man who probably believes all the regualar christian nonsense with the the mormon trash added? The man’s a compromised moron.

  • Baby_Raptor

    It would have been easy for you to read the title of the post, realize it’s about politics and ignore it. There’s no need to comment that certain posts don’t deal with Atheism. Just ignore them.

    This happens every single time a post comes up that doesn’t toe a certain line, and really, it’s annoying. Just leave it alone. Don’t read it, don’t comment, whatever.

  • Supermoves3000

     It’s a very good column, but I also question whether it belongs here. And the issue isn’t that I don’t like reading about stuff that’s not related to atheism, it’s that I don’t think atheism is inherently allied to any specific political viewpoint.

    It’s true that because of the strong influence of the religious right in the Republican party, they’re to some degree an antagonist for atheists and humanists.  And it’s true that American atheists and young people overwhelmingly vote Democrat.  But it doesn’t need to be that way. Personally I think that American politics would be better if the Republicans didn’t assume that trying to be open to atheists (and young people and minorities and everybody else they treat as “other”) was a lost cause. Everybody will be better off when religion stops being a wedge issue.

    I’m certainly not going to complain about the content of the site– it’s one of my favorites. But my personal preference would be that it stay away from general political discussion except where atheism is concerned– atheism and atheists in politics, separation of church and state, and so on.

  • Russian Alex

    Hell, I’m usually all for Democrats, and even I was thinking about voting for Huntsman. He appears to be a charismatic and intelligent man, and doesn’t (or at least didn’t) seem to espouse the bat-shit-insane far-right tea-bagging bullshit everybody else gleefully jumped on. If he were a little more visible and with more to say, he’d be an excellent choice for the GOP.

    Perry, though… if he drank a little less and thought a little more, then maybe. But then, as you correctly pointed out, we did have W, and for 8 years no less, so thinking is not a requirement for the presidency.

  • cathouseumbrella

    Haha, good point.

  • Greisha

    Romney was the second least crazy among GOP candidates after Jon Huntsman.  They could do worse.  For the record, based on info available to me I consider Jon Huntsman sane and somewhat reasonable.

  • Paul Paulus

    So, bigoted stupidity is not that popular in 2012. Who knew.

    But that doesn’t do anything to diminish the fact that such a massive proportion of the US population are stupid bigots.

  • Greisha

     Don’t you think that Romney election would shift balance of power to fundies all over the world?