By Stuart Stevens
Special to The Washington Post
Over the years, one of the more troubling characteristics of the Democratic Party and the left in general has been a shortage of loyalty and an abundance of self-loathing. It would be a shame if we Republicans took a narrow presidential loss as a signal that those are traits we should emulate.
I appreciate that Mitt Romney was never a favorite of D.C.'s Green Room crowd or, frankly, of many politicians. That's why, a year ago, so few of those people thought he would win the nomination. But that was indicative not of any failing of Romney's but of how out of touch so many were in Washington and in the professional politician class. Nobody liked Romney except voters. What began in a small field in New Hampshire grew into a national movement. It wasn't our campaign, it was Romney. He bested the competition in debates, and though he was behind almost every candidate in the primary at one time or the other, he won the nomination and came very close to winning the presidency.
In doing so, he raised more money for the Republican Party than the Republican Party did. He trounced President Barack Obama in debate. He defended the free-enterprise system and, more than any figure in recent history, drew attention to the moral case for free enterprise and conservative economics.
When much of what passes for a political intelligentsia these days predicted that the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan meant certain death on the third rail of Medicare and Social Security, Romney brought the fight to the Democrats and made the rational, persuasive case for entitlement reform that conservatives have so desperately needed. The nation listened, thought about it — and on Election Day, Romney carried seniors by a wide margin. And it's safe to say that the entitlement discussion will never be the same.
On Nov. 6, Romney carried the majority of every economic group except those with less than $50,000 a year in household income. That means he carried the majority of middle-class voters. While John McCain lost white voters under 30 by 10 points, Romney won those voters by seven points, a 17-point shift. Obama received 4 1/2 million fewer voters in 2012 than 2008, and Romney got more votes than McCain.
The Obama organization ran a great campaign. In my world, the definition of the better campaign is the one that wins.
But having been involved in three presidential races, two that we won closely and one that we lost fairly closely, I know enough to know that we weren't brilliant because Florida went our way in 2000 or enough Ohioans stuck with us in 2004. Nor are we idiots because we came a little more than 320,000 votes short of winning the Electoral College in 2012. Losing is just losing. It's not a mandate to throw out every idea that the candidate championed, and I would hope it's not seen as an excuse to show disrespect for a good man who fought hard for values we admire.
In the debates and in sweeping rallies across the country, Romney captured the imagination of millions of Americans. He spoke for those who felt disconnected from the Obama vision of America. He handled the unequaled pressures of a campaign with a natural grace and good humor that contrasted sharply with the angry bitterness of his critics.
There was a time not so long ago when the problems of the Democratic Party revolved around being too liberal and too dependent on minorities. Obama turned those problems into advantages and rode that strategy to victory. But he was a charismatic African American president with a billion dollars, no primary and a media that often felt morally conflicted about being critical. How easy is that to replicate?
Yes, the Republican Party has problems, but as we go forward, let's remember that any party that captures the majority of the middle class must be doing something right. When Romney stood on stage with Obama, it wasn't about television ads or whiz- bang turnout technologies, it was about fundamental Republican ideas versus fundamental Democratic ideas. It was about lower taxes or higher taxes, less government or more government, more freedom or less freedom. And Republican ideals — Romney — carried the day.
On Nov. 6, that wasn't enough to win. But it was enough to make us proud and to build on for the future.
Stevens was the chief strategist for the Romney presidential campaign.