Everything is crystal clear in retrospect. Every time.
At least it is to those who maintained that Mitt Romney had been thoroughly demonized in the swing states by the summer blizzard of advertising directed against him and that he never stood a chance thereafter. This electoral determinism is apparently seductive to intellectuals; and the tally of states won by President Obama is certainly a powerful fact supporting it.
But there are other facts, too: Mr. Romney’s rise in the polls following his performance in the first and later debates; the fact that women in particular moved towards him; his own gaffes that made the negative advertising seem real (such as his seeming dismissal of “the 47 per cent”) – and above all, events in the later stages of the campaign that damaged him generally or helped President Obama.
Would the result on Tuesday night have been exactly the same if Candy Crowley had never wrongly corrected Mr. Romney on the Benghazi scandal or if Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey had not embraced President Obama and pointedly ignored Mr. Romney in the Hurricane Sandy aftermath?
Mr. Christie’s actions were especially harmful to his party’s standard-bearer. I say: “It doth not profit a man to lose his soul for the whole world. But for New Jersey, Christopher, for New Jersey!” When we consider how close the race was when all the votes were counted both nationally and within individual states, it looks undeniable that the race was winnable even in the last ten days.
Why, then, was it lost?
First, it is certainly true that Mr. Romney took too long to correct the loathsome caricature of himself that the Obama campaign and its surrogates assiduously spread.
Mr. Romney should have expressed more outrage and demanded apologies. But I suspect that, privately knowing he was a decent man with no skeletons in his closet, he reckoned that no one could take such allegations seriously and that they would rebound on the slanderers.
With fact checkers like America’s partisan media, however, that was an idle hope. One future lesson, therefore, is to hold liars to account from first to last. No one should have an interest in telling absurd calumnies about political opponents. After all, the truth is usually sufficiently damaging.
A second lesson from the Romney defeat is that “economism is not enough.”
Mainstream conservative parties on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years have tried to win and keep power by promising lower taxes and lower deficits to the exclusion of all other topics. This appeal is too narrow; it omits many topics that interest the voters (even if not the elites) from national sovereignty to religious liberty; and it is simply not very persuasive. Political parties must be full service opinion providers (taking their cue from these pages), and they must discover the necessity of intellectual investment. Bold and important ideas on controversial topics such as entitlement reform cannot be presented to the voters for the first time just two weeks before the campaign ends. The parties must advance full and logical arguments for their reform proposal three years before an election so that when one comes along, their program will be given a fair reading with a good prospect of being understood.
Much debate since Tuesday night has been on the changing demographic nature of the US. electorate that helped Obama and hurt Romney. I am inclined to think that what the election told us about women is still more important if only because they are 54 per cent of the electorate rather than 10 per cent.
Women were certainly seduced to vote for the Obama campaign by a thoroughly fantastical argument that the GOP was waging a war on women. Anyone who imagines that Republican lawmakers want to ban contraception ought to see the size of their families for a reality check. And not even a fierce misogynist believes that most women actually regard abortion as a public good that should be safe, legal, and frequent.
The success of this campaign cannot be taken literally; it was, one female public opinion expert said to me, taken as a sign that the Democrats “cared.” That is a topic worthy of an encyclopedia; and the large increase in unmarried women (with or without children) is something we should all care about – and also admit that frivolous and adolescent men are at the root of it, and also that irresponsible mothers and fathers are at the root of many male troubles . . . you see we are getting into deep waters. But maybe the the best refutation of concept of the caring state can best be conveyed by a story.
Not long ago a welfare bureaucrat was testifying to a Congress committee on children’s rights. He happened to tell a skeptical Senator Phil Gramm that he loved the senator’s children as much as the senator did.
“Oh really,” replied Gramm. “What are their names?”
The time will come, ladies, when the state forgets your name too. Its only resemblance to a good parent or a bad husband is that it demands obedience.
The broader topic here is that a re-elected Obama is hoping – and being expected by his new multicultural American electorate – to develop and expand America’s welfare state along more expensive European lines. Their joint tragedy is that America’s welfare state is being expanded not in the collectivist 1940s but in the globalized 2010s when the welfare state is running up against fiscal barriers everywhere and when America is heavily overdrawn at the bank already.
Do I sound as if I’m suffering from post-election biliousness? Not really. But I’m an immigrant to North America from the United Kingdom. I’ve seen this movie before and I know how it ends.
John O’Sullivan is a British-born writer on American politics who lives in Decatur, Alabama. He is editor-at large of the National Review and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.