A few notes for Republicans trying to figure this election out, and for everyone actually -- because there was some new stuff.
1. The late-breaking ad run by Romney that said Jeep was moving jobs to China blew back in his face. The people figured it out. And they had great communication tools to share the news with each other. The message: "Romney is a dick."
2. When Akin said the awful stuff about women and rape, that presented an A-B choice to the Republican leadership. They seemed to understand that, because they called on Akin to step aside. When he didn't, they stuck with him. I assume Republican strategists figured that while maybe it would be an issue in Missouri, the rest of us would forget about it. We didn't. And then it happened again in Indiana. This time the Republican leadership didn't say anything. What if, instead, Romney had made a big deal about it, like the Obama race speech in 2008. Cut support for Akin, on principle. That would have changed the tone of the campaign. But this isn't the kind of thing a Romney does. And that's a big part of why he isn't President-elect Romney. He isn't willing to take a risk for a big reward. He's a numbers guy. Not a good guy to be Leader of the Free World. (Not that we haven't already had presidents like that, we have.)
He said in his concession speech that he and Ryan had "left everyting on the field." Not true. He didn't take any personal risks other than telling ever-more-bold lies about himself. If he had taken a principled stand on something maybe a few more voters would have looked into his eyes and seen some of the conscience his friends says he has. But if he has it, it never showed up in the campaign. Quite the opposite -- his calculating "I'll say whatever I have to say to get your vote" attitude is what we saw 100 percent of the time.
Akin and Mourdock teed up a perfect opportunity for him to stand for something. How much guts would it have taken to completely withdraw support from these guys? Sure it would have made enemies in the Republican Party. But it would have given him at least one anchor to the human race, for the rest of us to connect with. "At least he's willing to stand up for a woman who was raped." (It sounds terrible to say it that way, but that is what it comes down to.)
3. Romney sealed it with his 47 percent comment at the Florida fundraiser. These were familiar ideas. It sounded authentic, like this is what Romney really thinks. No matter how competent you think a guy is, he has abstracted a huge number of American voters to be sub-human. If that's what it takes to hold his world together, I don't want to live in that world. I was already decided not to vote for him, and I didn't imagine there would have been anything he could say to change my mind, but when the debates came around...
4. The mistake Obama appeared to make was to paint Romney as a cretin, incompetent, dumb, rich, inbred jerk. Well, you could see, in the debate, he wasn't that. He could think on his feet. Put a good sentence together. And he had the fire that Obama lacks. If I had been on the fence (again, I wasn't) that debate might have pushed me over. If he hadn't shared the 47 percent bit, that might have made a difference. There was a moment in the first debate when a thought popped into my head that he's the real president. It wasn't something I reasoned my way to, it was a flash of insight. I imagine this is the feeling, that other people had too, that made his poll numbers go up.
5. I think he disqualified himself with the bullshit about Benghazi. People were dying, we didn't know how many. The situation was fluid, and there was Mitt sticking his two cents in. Really some people don't have good intuition for politics. Romney proved that day he was one of them.
6. Don't make jokes about climate change or birth certificates.
7. I think the biggest lesson of 2012 is that the people are much better connected now than they ever have been. That means that bold manipulative lies don't work, because they can be exposed, quickly, by networks of people that voters trust. In the past, politics was totally centralized. Like everything else, it is not centralized anymore. We have fact-checkers, we can listen to them, and now apparently enough people do that we can enforce a certain discipline on our candidates.
8. Given the circumstances of the economy, Romney could have won. That's why Republicans should hear this loud and clear. If you run as the Party of Cretins you're going to keep losing. It might take a few years for the transition to be complete. If the Republicans want to reform, they should reform along the lines of empowered voters with good access to information. And show respect for everyone. Don't nominate patricians like Romney. Nominate people with decent political instincts, who would never say the kinds of trashy things Romney said, no matter how much depends on it.