One of my favorite political quotes comes from John F. Kennedy:
Victory has a thousand fathers, while failure is an orphan
Nowhere is that phrase more applicable than the world of campaign politics. When a candidate wins a race everybody who was attached to the campaign, from the speechwriter to the pollster to the random direct mail consultant who only did one piece, is suddenly all over television and radio taking credit. But boy oh boy, if that campaign crashed and burned blame starts raining down like dollar bills at a strip club. Usually campaign post-mortems take about a month or some to come out, and right on cue, the Boston Globe just released a wonderful story about how and why the Romney campaign failed spectacularly last November.
I give the Globe credit, their long and well sourced story covering everything from Romney’s failure to share information about his personal life with the public, to the deep fundamental doubts that major consultants had about him all long ranks up there in the pantheon of presidential campaign post mortems. Joshua Green’s 2008 piece in the Atlantic, The Frontrunner’s Fall, about the melt-down of the Hillary Clinton primary campaign could have been made into just as a good a movie as Game Change. Slate magazine’s breakdown of John Kerry’s loss to George W. Bush in 2004 was equally frank, inasmuch as every poll indicated that Kerry could have and should have beaten Bush. One of the best post-mortems ever (and one of the few by the candidate themselves) is Bob Dole’s own re-telling of his loss to Bill Clinton in 1996, which he penned in the Washington Post earlier this year. In each of these cases every campaign had high expectations, just like the Romney campaign.
Due to the fact that most campaigns at the presidential level expect to win, it is extremely difficult to get a real sense of what did or did not go wrong in the campaign. That is why most campaign post-mortems are written from the outside, essentially culling together news stories as opposed to really talking to the men and women lying in the ashes. Consider the fact that since the excellent documentary The War Room, about the Clinton campaign in 1992; almost every presidential contender has had a documentarian follow their campaign. They dutifully collect interesting scenes, nuggets of wisdom and spontaneous conversations in the hopes that one day it all hangs together to form a compelling narrative of victory. However if the campaign fails, 99% of the time none of the video is released (there was a documentary in the works about Wesley Clark’s 2004 presidential campaign, and of course we’ll NEVER get to see what Rielle Hunter was filming about John Edwards.) Nobody wants to talk about a loss, and if they do, it’s just to blame someone, the candidate, a particular consultant or a national event beyond anyone’s control. While there has been plenty of that in the aftermath of the 2012 presidential race, one key thing did pop out from the Boston Globe’s CSI: Romney Campaign edition.
A quote from Tagg Romney (Mr. “I’m Gonna Knock You OUT 2012” ) about his father’s decision to run for president spoke volumes about the entire campaign endeavor:
Haunted by his 2008 loss, he initially told his family he would not do it. While candidates often try to portray themselves as reluctant, Tagg insisted his father’s stance was genuine….“He wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life. He had no desire to . . . run,” said Tagg, who worked with his mother, Ann, to persuade his father to seek the presidency. “If he could have found someone else to take his place . . . he would have been ecstatic to step aside. He is a very private person who loves his family deeply and wants to be with them, but he has deep faith in God and he loves his country, but he doesn’t love the attention.”
Mitt Romney, more than anything else, did not want the job. He did not want to be president. He did not want to be Commander in Chief. And that more than anything else is a pretty painful truth for someone to accept, no matter how private they think they are. Romney, along with the rest of the Republican Party has to acknowledge that they wasted two years and millions of dollars. Mitt’s heart wasn’t in it. The interesting thing is that this was plain to see for many political observers throughout 2012.
Most people who run for president, especially if they are the party nominee want the job so bad they’d kick their grandmother down a flight of stairs if they thought that would win them the job. A modern presidential campaign is two whole years out of your life, living out of plane, a car and hotel rooms. It is usually something you have been dreaming about since you were a child. Even George W. Bush, who was accused at various points by the press of being a lackadaisical campaigner, had an extreme lust for the campaign trail (It was the actual governing part he had a problem with.) I pointed out several times through the interminable debates and the primary that Mitt didn’t act like a guy who wanted to be president. He acted like being president was the next promotion. Something you wanted really bad, but it wouldn’t kill you if you lost.
Let’s see I’ve been a wealthy businessman, raised a family, been a governor, run the Olympics and I’ve still got my looks in my 60’s. What’s next? I guess I’ll run for president. If I win great, if not, I guess I’ll just have to retreat back to my wife and loving family and millions of millions of dollars.
In other words he had a pretty solid fallback plan and his son Tagg just revealed it to the public. It showed in Romney’s various gaffes about class and culture, from the NASCAR reference to the infamous 47% comments. It showed in his selfish and classless concession speech where he essentially gave a Chappelle Show send-off to his supporters then went off to Disneyworld. It has shown in his post campaign comments, while most nominees are too bitter or depressed about a loss to speak Romney is still making snide comments about WHY he lost, instead of WHAT his loss means to the country.
America probably dodged a bullet by Romney losing the presidency, it’s not a good idea to elect someone who isn’t committed to the task. However, we can still learn a lesson from his campaign post-mortem. In politics, all the money, fortunate breaks and experience in the world cannot trump an honest to goodness passion for the people and your job. Flaws and all, Obama had it, Romney didn’t and that turned the entire campaign.