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Why Romney lost: Was the candidate the problem?

Yes, the GOP needs to do more to broaden its appeal to minorities, young people, and women. But Romney's problems in reaching voters may have had less to do with policy than personality.

By Correspondent / November 8, 2012

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the Boston Convention Center in Boston, Wednesday, Nov. 7.

Stephan Savoia/AP

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In 1992, Democratic strategist James Carville immortalized the phrase: “It’s the economy, stupid,” making the point that in the end, most presidential elections come down to something pretty simple.

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Correspondent

Liz Marlantes covers politics for the Monitor and is a regular contributor to the Monitor's political blog, DC Decoder.

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And as we wade through all the post-mortem analyses about what went wrong for Republicans this year – They've permanently marginalized themselves as a party of old white men! They got schooled by the high-tech Obama turnout operation! They were sunk by the loony-tunes gaffes of tea party types! – well, we just keep coming back to something much more basic: “It was the candidate, stupid.”

We take no pleasure in piling on Mitt Romney here. Running for president is hard, and losing (twice) is obviously a bitter pill. We hope Mr. Romney can take some solace in the knowledge that, as he said in his concession speech, he left it all on the field.

And there's no question that there are larger issues for Republicans to think through here – above all, how to win more support from Hispanics, the nation's fastest-growing voting bloc. 

But we can easily envision a 2016 race featuring, say, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, in which the GOP's share of the Hispanic vote suddenly, magically rises. Or a 2016 race featuring, say, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, that somehow manages to attract more young people and women.

Notably, as Sean Trende points out in a trenchant analysis in RealClearPolitics, Romney’s loss may actually have had more to do with white voters who chose to stay home than it did with the increased turnout among minorities. And in the end, we think Romney’s lack of appeal to both whites and even many non-whites wasn’t just about policy – but about personality.

Because, let’s face it: Romney was not a great candidate. He won the nomination because every other potential top-tier candidate decided to take a pass. Let’s not forget, during the GOP primary season, we in the media actually spent weeks covering Herman Cain as the field’s frontrunner. Rick Santorum, the sweater-vested ultra-conservative former senator from Pennsylvania, who compared homosexuality to bestiality and had lost his own seat by a whopping 18 points, wound up being Romney’s stiffest competition.

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