Mr. Romney is a man of admirable personal character, but his political profile is, well, protean. He made the cardinal mistake of pandering to conservatives rather than offering a vision that would attract them. He claimed to be “severely conservative” and embraced “self-deportation” for illegal immigrants, a political killer. But he refused to break from his RomneyCare record in Massachusetts even though it undermined his criticism of ObamaCare. A third campaign would resurrect all of that political baggage—and videotape.
The businessman also failed on his own self-professed terms as a superior manager. His convention was the worst since George H.W. Bush’s in 1992, focusing more on his biography than a message. This left him open to President Obama’s barrage against his record at Bain Capital, which Mr. Romney failed to defend because that would have meant playing on Democratic turf, as his strategists liked to put it. The unanswered charges suppressed GOP turnout in key states like Ohio.
Mr. Romney’s campaign team was notable for its mediocrities, led by a strategist whose theory of the race was that voters had already rejected Mr. Obama so the challenger merely needed to seem like a safe alternative. He thus never laid out an economic narrative to counter Mr. Obama’s claim that he had saved the country from a GOP Depression and needed more time for his solutions to work.
And don’t forget the management calamity of Mr. Romney’s voter turnout operation, code-named Orca. Mr. Romney likes to say he reveres “data,” but Mr. Obama’s campaign was years ahead of Mr. Romney’s in using Big Data and social media to boost turnout. The Romney campaign was so clueless on voter mobilization that well into Election Night the candidate still thought he would win. He lost a winnable race 51%-47%, including every closely contested state save North Carolina.
Mr. Romney had his good moments, notably choosing Paul Ryan as running mate and the first debate. He also, eventually, adopted solid proposals on tax and Medicare reform after his initial and forgettable 59-point plan. More comfortable with slide decks than ideas, he still struggled to make a compelling argument for the agenda he claimed to favor.
Mr. Romney’s post-election diagnosis also doesn’t inspire confidence that he has learned the right lessons. He said Mr. Obama won because he promised “extraordinary financial gifts” to voters. “It’s a proven political strategy,” Mr. Romney said. “Giving away free stuff is a hard thing to compete with.” Maybe so, but if he can’t sell a larger message of growth and opportunity, he won’t defeat Hillary Clinton’s gifts either.