Romney should have been more aggressive defending his business success
A lot has been said about why Mitt Romney lost the presidential election, fromhis failure to turn out more white working-class voters to his failure to win more of the Latino voters who did turn out. Republican strategist Karl Rove offered the latest take Thursday in remarks detailing how he tried, from his perch at an outside group forbidden by law from coordinating with the campaign, to signal to Romney's team that they should make changes in course and defend their candidate more fiercely.The negative attacks on Romney were part of Obama's voter suppression effort that was aided greatly by the IRS abuse of the Tea Party groups. What is missing from this analysis is the advantage Obama had from not having to run in primaries. This gave him an enormous financial advantage prior to the political conventions when Romney would have money to finally respond. By then it was too late.
"No election can be blamed on one single thing ... that's not the way politics works," Rove said during an Aspen Ideas Festival conversation with AtlanticEditor in Chief James Bennet. At core, however, "This was a tactical failure."
The Obama campaign had decided in March and April, Rove said, that it couldn't win on the basis of the economy, Obamacare, or the president's prospective vision -- so it made "a grand bet: We have to take a fifth of our campaign, almost 200 million dollars, and go irradiate Mitt Romney."
It was a gamble, because by the time Labor Day rolled around, "they wouldn't have time to do something else," he said. (If that sounds familiar, it's because it's the strategy George W. Bush pursued against John Kerry in 2004.)
"I think this is one of the critical moments because Romney needed to defend Bain Capital. He needed to be out there" talking about his turnaround successes with companies people could identify with, Rove said, such as Staples and a steel mill in Indiana.
"At Crossroads, we watched for three weeks while they assaulted Bain. And you can't talk to the campaigns directly. You can't coordinate with to them. But you can play bridge. So after about three weeks we said we think this is hurting, so why don't we signal to them."
So Rove's American Crossroads Super PAC went out and ran $9.3 million worth of ads in July 2012 in 14 battleground states fighting back against the Obama campaign attacks, using a Washington Post editorial that said they were overblown.
"We were trying to signal to the Romney campaign, if you want to engage on this, you lead, we'll follow. Now they can't talk to us, but they can talk to the press. And the press immediately would call us up and say, we just talked to the Romney campaign about your ad and they say first of all, the issue's not hurting us and B, in politics, if you're responding, you're losing. Well, a lot of times in politics if you're responding you're winning," Rove continued.
"We decided wrongly that they were right and so we didn't proceed. And we should have."
The other critical moment for the Romney campaign came around the time of the Republican National Convention, when Romney's aides put Clint Eastwood in prime time but relegated Romney's old friends and people whom he'd helped -- such as the Oparowskis, an elderly Mormon couple whose dying cancer-striken 14-year-old son was lifted by Romney's friendship -- to early speaking slots where they made little national impression.
This was part and parcel of the broader issue: "We needed to know more about Mitt Romney. We needed to know more about him. There's a natural reticence among too many candidates on the Republican side to show everybody who they are."
Rove watched as Pat Oparowski finished her convention remarks and turned to see Bill O'Reilly was crying when she concluded, "as were most of the people in the arena."