SALT LAKE CITY — Unless you live under a rock, by now you know that President Barack Obama has been reelected President of the United States. Mitt Romney's supporters are understandably disappointed.
In many ways, Mr. Romney was an ideal candidate. A successful family man, Mitt Romney had proven his leadership abilities in business as part of Bain Capital, as president and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and as governor of Massachusetts. If running for the presidency were the equivalent of being hired as CEO of the United States of America, things may have turned out differently.
Unfortunately for his campaign, however, the die was cast months ago when Mr. Romney tacked far to the right to win the nomination. For much of the process, GOP hopefuls looked like they were playing "Are you as conservative as a tea partier?"
Though this phenomenon — presidential candidates play to the base to win the nomination, and then move back toward the center to attract independent-leaning voters — is well known, one critical aspect differentiated this election from others. This time, "playing to the base" meant taking positions that clearly alienated voters the GOP needed to win.
Mr. Romney's opposition to in-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants (which placed him to the right of Rick Perry, his principal rival at the time) coupled with his "self-deportation" plan gave Latinos reason for concern. Later, his pledge to end the Obama Administration's deferred action program exacerbated the problem.
To have any chance of winning, Mr. Romney needed a strong showing with Latinos. That didn't happen. The GOP should not be surprised.
The same is true of women. Mr. Romney's proposal to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood appears to have been aimed at burnishing his credentials with skeptical pro life conservatives. However, not only can federal funds not be used for elective abortions provided by Planned Parenthood, the bulk of what the organization does involves providing contraceptives, along with testing and treating STDs, which are issues important to women.. That coupled with Mr. Romney's position on the Blunt Amendment gave women reason for concern.
Later, his ambivalence about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and a series of inexplicably ridiculous comments about rape from various GOP candidates didn't help the situation. Mr. Romney needed to win the women's vote. He didn't, which should not have surprised the GOP.
Mr. Romney played well enough to win the nomination, but the "severely conservative" suit never quite fit. When he began to speak more freely (apparently, in part, at the suggestion of his family), he started to sound more moderate and enjoyed a short but significant surge of support.
Though it was too little too late, the surge is important as an indication of what undecided voters were looking for in this election: A moderate, pragmatic problem-solver, not a "severely conservative," fire-breathing ideologue. Had the GOP nominated someone like Jon Huntsman (or Mitt Romney circa 2003), President Obama would have given a concession speech early Wednesday morning.
In doing what he felt was necessary to win the nomination, Mr. Romney put his hopes for the presidency out of reach. The GOP hand-wringing about the loss has already led to finger-pointing and seems poised to lead to clenched fists. One thing is clear — the GOP has serious work ahead to do with Latinos, women, young people and others, and some soul searching to do on issues such as its skepticism of science and opposition to gay marriage, if it hopes to be competitive in the future.
Put simply, the GOP cannot hope to be Grand again until it stops being so Old.