The latest piece of Republican introspection emerged on Monday, with a prominent GOP polling firm releasing a memo that candidly outlined the electoral failures of Mitt Romney's campaign.
Authored by The Winston Group, the memo asserted that "the door couldn’t have been more wide open for Governor Romney and Republicans to win a signiﬁcant victory" in 2012, pointing to the historically high unemployment rate as evidence that President Obama was eminently beatable. But it was a mistake, the authors of the memo argued, for Romney and other Republicans to treat the election purely as a referendum on Obama's first term record — a strategy that allowed the incumbent to present the electorate with a choice between the two candidates.
Many in Republican campaign circles prior to and during the presidential primary process believed with certainty that the candidate who won would handily defeat President Obama because of how bad things were. This attitude developed into a belief among some Republicans that this election was going to be purely a referendum on the president.
However, the general electorate was in a very different place. First, people believed this election would have serious consequences. Earlier in the year in a New Models survey, 85% of voters said they believed the statement, “If we don’t make the right choices, the economic downturn may last for many years, and would lead to a decline in the quality of life.” That result was similar across race, gender, age, ideology, and party. Additionally, when voters were asked whether they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who would stop President Obama or one who had his own plan for the economy and jobs, they preferred the one with a plan by 72-18.
But after winning the primary, Governor Romney’s campaign decided to focus on making this a referendum on President Obama’s record. In contrast, the Obama campaign made the election a choice between the two candidates and their plans for the future. President Obama deﬁned Romney in terms that would allow for a favorable contrast, particularly on economic policies, and in the end, the choice became moving forward with the economic polices of the present (Obama’s) or going back to the failed economic policies of the past (Romney’s/Bush’s). Because Governor Romney focused on Obama’s negative record at the expense of deﬁning himself, the Romney campaign never engaged in the needed economic debate that would have given voters a clear understanding of his economic vision for the country, why it would work, and how it differed from both Obama and Bush.