On Tuesday night, as I watched the election returns roll in, there were moments of great joy – but one of the happiest moment came after the losing candidate delivered his concession speech and disappeared through the backstage curtains at the Boston Convention Center. I realized at that moment that I would likely never again have to write or even, for that matter, think about Mitt Romney.
Now, I understand that, as a general rule, you don’t hit a guy when he’s down. Romney suffered a crushing defeat, one that according to aides he was completely unprepared for.
But at the end of the day, Romney’s campaign should be assessed in the most accurate possible manner. Its failings should not be sugarcoated or glossed over. Instead, it should be described precisely as it was: One of the most cynical, dishonest and disreputable presidential campaigns in modern American history.
From the Republican primaries to practically the final days of his failed presidential campaign, Romney was either blatantly lying about his opponent’s record, adopting policy positions of convenience that ran counter to his past positions, regularly misleading Americans about his own plans or stirring racial acrimony. I don’t feel sorry that Romney lost on Tuesday night; I feel sorry that a great nation had to be subjected to his presidential campaign.
Think I’m being too harsh? Well, harken back to the GOP primaries and the ad run by Romney ran against Rick Perry. It attacked Perry for allowing illegal immigrants to attend Texas state universities and then used a supporting statement from former Mexican President Vincente Fox as a bludgeon to castigate Perry – as if being endorsed by Mexico’s president were a scarlet letter.
Over the summer, he produced an ad attacking President Obama for lifting work requirements for those on welfare – a charge that not only wasn’t true but was almost certainly intended to promulgate the notion that Obama was providing government benefits to people who didn’t work. Anyone who questions the racial implications of this charge is severely unfamiliar with decades of Republican welfare politics.
Later, when toxic curmudgeon and Romney campaign surrogate John Sununu went on television and insinuated that Obama needed to “learn how to be a real American” he wasn’t upbraided by the Romney campaign - he was sent back out on television to make such cheery arguments like the only reason Colin Powell endorsed Obama was because they both were black.
Then there was the “you didn’t build it” charge – an out-of-context statement uttered by Obama but in the hands of Romney and his minions became proof positive that Obama hates the free market and entrepreneurship.
This was all at pace with Romney’s regular assaults on the truth, such as his oft-repeated charge that Obamacare would lead to government-run health care; that the President had doubled the deficit; that he intended to cut more than $700 billion from Medicare; or that Obama had ventured on a global apology tour. All were untrue, but none of this stopped Romney from repeating them over and over and over again on the campaign trail.
Indeed, Romney finished his campaign on yet another lie – an ad claiming that Chrysler was intending to move its Jeep production to China. Once again, even after being called out by reporters who pointed out that the assertion wasn’t true, Romney was unfazed – as he ran another radio ad that made the exact same false charge.
Now to be fair, President Obama had his share of truth-stretching assertions, but it was hardly endemic to his campaign. For Romney, daily assaults on the truth were not simply par for the course; they were reflective of his campaign’s overall political strategy. Over the past several years, conservatives have created their own alternate reality with their own set of “facts” about President Obama and the federal government. Romney regularly fanned the flames of conservative delusion, recognizing that an angry, misinformed yet enthusiastic GOP electorate was key to his political aspirations. It was a cynical ploy – and in the hands of a more competent politician it might actually have succeeded.
Finally, there was Romney’s extraordinary and unprecedented refusal to engage in traditional campaign transparency. He never released his tax returns. He refused to reveal the names of people who raised money on behalf of his campaign. He was even less forthright about his plans of he were to be elected. The cornerstone of his economic plan was a proposal for a 20% across-the-board tax cut, which he claimed would not explode the deficit and would be paid for by closing loopholes and capping deductions. Never once did he detail what those loopholes or deductions might be.
Quite simply, Romney and his campaign were simply allergic to truth, veracity and openness.
Now as Romney fades off into the sunset he will likely be little remembered. Democrats feel no affection toward him, but neither do Republicans. Romney was a distinctly unloved presidential nominee. During the GOP primaries he was forced into a protracted political struggle against a motley collection of cranks, also-rans and mediocrities. In the end Republicans accepted him as the party standard bearer because frankly they didn’t have much of a choice.
He was just a means to an end for Republicans desperate to defeat the President they hated, a warm body that if he was lucky enough to win the presidency could sign the legislation they pined to enact.
Beyond that, Republicans had little use for Mitt Romney.
Like Michael Dukakis in 1988, Romney will almost certainly fade into political oblivion, rarely to be heard from again in the realm of national politics. In the end, I’d like to feel a little sorry for a man who suffered such a public defeat and humiliation. But sometimes in life, you get what you deserve.