What Mitt Romney discovered in this election is something that should be taped on the wall of every white presidential hopeful for years to come: If you cater to angry white men as the foundation of your campaign, you will lose.
The reason can be explained with one word: Demographics. There simply are not enough white men left in America to win the big prize for a presidential candidate. In order to win the presidency, you must knit together a coalition of voters that look much more like the composition of the country than the voters who checked the square for Romney yesterday.
This past May, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that for the first time there were more babies of color born over the past year than white babies. This means that over the next couple of decades, black, Latino and Asian Americans could form a governing coalition that could essentially rule the country.
The depressing future for the Republican Party was neatly summarized by Republican analyst Steve Schmidt last night on MSNBC.
“This will be the last election a Republican can possibly win as a national candidate with these types of numbers,” he said, looking at the results coming in for Obama—but before Obama’s re-election was called. “This will lead to some important moments of soul searching for the Republican party if it is going to be a national party.”
But yet, despite Romney reaching desperately for the votes of white males, in the end he couldn’t even win their stronghold—the Midwestern Rust Belt. Obama beat Romney soundly in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania—together probably the last bastion of the angry white male (aside from the South, of course). Romney began substantially behind the 8-ball with that group after declaring four years ago that the auto industry should be allowed to go bankrupt. In an area of the country where millions of jobs are dependent on that same auto industry, it was an extremely difficult haul for Romney to overcome that statement—particularly after he incorrectly said in recent weeks that Chrysler would be sending Jeep jobs to China, which was an outright lie.
Frankly, if a white male candidate can’t win Michigan and Ohio, he’s not going to win the country.
But beyond Romney’s blunders with the Rust Belt blue collar, Romney was doomed by the numbers. Namely, the coalition of African Americans and Latinos that came together and handed him a monumental loss. It was not a given that Obama would get the Latino vote—after all, Republican George W. Bush got over 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004. But yesterday, Obama got well over 60 percent of the Latino vote—some estimates said as much as 75 percent. It was policy and politics that doomed Romney with Latinos—not just his vociferous attacks on undocumented immigrants during the Republican primary, but his position on issues like healthcare, reproductive rights and taxes.
Steve Schmidt on MSNBC broke down just how much the country has changed over the last 24 years. Romney got about 60 percent of the white vote yesterday, but it brought him only slightly more than 200 electoral votes. The last time a presidential candidate got 60 percent of the white vote was in 1988 with George H.W. Bush—and that number of whites brought him 426 electoral votes in a landslide win over Michael Dukakis. Schmidt called this transformation “stunning.”
The complexion of the country has changed so dramatically over 24 years that nailing down a sizable portion of whites gets you a sad concession speech on election night.
In a year when the unemployment rate hovered just under 8 percent, it was supposed to be conventional wisdom that the presidential incumbent would have a very difficult time holding onto his seat. Knowing this, Romney went after the unemployment number with a vengeance, repeating about a hundred times a day that 23 million Americans were still looking for work.
But it didn’t work.
In the end, Americans chose to hitch their fate once again to a man who they felt could much more closely empathize with their fate, who more easily understood their lives. While Romney tried to sell himself as a businessman who could put America back to work, Americans more likely saw in him the unfeeling boss who did not care how hard they were struggling. He wanted to be embraced as the smart technocrat, but instead came off as a distant multimillionaire.
The lesson is that when the economy is horrible and the nation is suffering, it’s probably more important for the public to feel like you understand and empathize with their plight than for you to throw out some dubious plans for transformation.
And maybe the final lesson was this: Telling the truth matters. Romney thought he could lie with impunity and get away with it. While there was no one to order him to the principal’s office or to threaten to wash his mouth out with soap, in the end Romney probably paid the ultimate price for his duplicity: A thorough and embarrassing defeat.