WASHINGTON – If it were a case study at Harvard Business School, the client’s failures would have been glaring: The message was off, the preparation was lacking, and the whole structure needed work.
But this was no business being reviewed, and it wasn’t being performed by an unfriendly reviewer.
This was the withering take that the Republican Party had on the campaign of its former standard bearer, Mitt Romney—the private-equity executive who touted his ability to turn around underperforming companies—in one of the most comprehensive dissections of the 2012 presidential election.
The analysis indelibly sets the legacy of Romney’s 2012 election, as recorded in the party’s official review, as a mission marred by multiple blunders.
“There’s no one reason we lost,” Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican Party, said at the National Press Club as he unveiled a 100-page autopsy of the election. “Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren’t inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; our primary and debate process needed improvement.”
“So, there’s no one solution,” he added. “There’s a long list of them.”
The report covered more territory than just Romney’s campaign—focusing on the overal lapses by the Republican Party—but it delved deeply into the difficulties the former Massachusetts governor encountered as he attempted to compete with President Obama’s operation. Romney was mentioned 21 times as the report went into what at times was a blistering take on what went wrong inside Romney’s presidential campaign, and how the party can help prevent future candidates avoid his fate.
The Romney team fell short in Hispanic outrreach. Young voters viewed the Republican Party as “old and detached from pop culture.” It is starting to be viewed by the American electorate as a bunch of “stuffy old men.”
The Obama campaign knocked on twice as many doors, the report noted. The Romney campaign also devoted far too little resources to trying to secure lower rates for their television and online ads, and finding ways to target them at potential voters.
“The Obama media research and buying staff was 5 to 15 times larger than the Romney staff,” the report noted. “New online media require much more active staff and daily tweaking than traditional media.”
It notes Romney received only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote. While Romney won among married women, Obama dominated among single women. Romney won among voters older than 30, but Obama far and away beat Romney among voters younger than 30.
“The RNC must recognize that today’s young voters will be voters for the next 50-plus years,” the report read, adding, “The Party is seen as old and detached from pop culture.”
Obama defined Romney early, taking a page from President Bush’s playbook against John Kerry in 2004.
“The sound of silence from our side in response to the damaging attacks must never happen again,” the report read. “Many post-election analyses correctly conclude that our side was never able to recover from these attacks once we let them stand with minimal response.”
The report doesn’t offer as much dissection on specific House and Senate races, and Senator Scott Brown’s loss to Elizabeth Warren is not mentioned. The report does allude to the upcoming Massachusetts special election to replace Kerry as a race that will allow the party to test new voter contact efforts.
One of the few positive areas from the Romney campaign – which the RNC hopes to replicate – was his fundraising operation.
His campaign worked with the RNC and state parties to turn out record numbers, and did it with a more efficient staff. Romney’s financial administration staff was “one of the hidden gems in 2012,” the report said, noting that Romney had nine staffers compared with 30 for McCain.
“The RNC should consider how to promote the lessons learned from that operation and others with similar success,” the report read.Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.