I really didn’t want Mitt Romney to run for president again in 2012. When he was first making all the proper pre-presidential-campaign rounds, I cringed. As a “conservative” I found his positions and his fervor for upholding my pet issues to be less than stellar. And to be honest, I was one of the many people energized in 2008 by Sarah Palin’s introduction to the McCain Campaign; before that, I wasn’t fond of the idea of McCain running either. I remember being at the Texas state GOP convention in the summer of 2008 and seeing bored and lonely McCain supporters in his booth. They couldn’t GIVE those signs away. I also remember the energy injected into that campaign mere months later as Palin was announced as McCain’s running mate. All of a sudden I had to pay $5 for a sign with Palin’s name added to it. And the loss was devastating. If I had to deal with another campaign that was going to let me down and stifle conservative energy, it was going to put me off my feed.
So I watched the other candidates fall…Gingrich, Santorum, and… wait, who was the other one?
I knew early on Romney would be the candidate, even if I didn’t like it. But Romney appealed to people in states that didn’t end in “-exas”, and he had been running effectively since 2007, so he had a huge lead right out of the gate. I railed against the “inevitability” of it all, even as I resigned myself to supporting him against Barack Obama. There wasn’t another option for me; the third-party road was too fraught with peril, and deep down I’m pretty risk-averse.
I decided I would make the best of it, though. I read or watched dozens of Romney speeches. I went to see him speak near Dallas during our state convention. I read the website and the press releases. I shared videos and articles about him. And in all that, I was able to see a fairly wide difference between the president and Romney. It might not have been as vast a chasm as I’d have liked, but Romney had pretty much secured most of the votes of people like me; I knew he had to keep winning votes from other places. He stayed on message, too, drawing a reasonably clear contrast between himself and the president on issue after issue. Again, not perfect, but moving in the right direction after Obama. The alternative, four more years of Obama, was unthinkable.
As the summer came and the GOP National Convention displayed a frustrating battle about the rules, I wavered a bit. I’m a rules nerd and a parliamentarian. I knew the repercussions of that battle. But I couldn’t tie it directly to Romney, even though Ben Ginsberg, a Romney attorney, was reported to be behind it. It smelled bad, it did. But sources I knew who were there indicated that Romney wasn’t part of the effort. I believed them. And with Paul Ryan on the ticket, another energizing force who would help sell the campaign to the budget-conscious among the right, I was ready to forge ahead.
By the time I’d seen the speeches and the debates and the overflowing Red Rock appearance (among others), I was confident that Romney would win.
I was looking at all the wrong things, I’ve since learned. But that doesn’t mean that Romney was a poor candidate. Nor does it mean Romney was the wrong choice. He might have trusted sketchy pollsters and technology guys and consultants. But how many people have similarly put their confidence in the reputation of the Karl Rove of yesteryear, only to see his much-touted advice prove to be too little, too late? The thing I took away from this election was that we were out-campaigned. And that we’d better learn to catch up. Quickly.
Romney is now slated to speak at CPAC, and it’s one of the speeches I’m looking forward to, since this will be my first time to attend. Yet I still see people on Twitter and Facebook knocking Romney, as though he lost the entire campaign for not being conservative enough. Charges that conservatives stayed home have been leveled, but I have yet to see dependable evidence of it. When challenged, the people saying it have no proof. (And please, if you DO have proof of that, post it in comments – I WANT to see it.)
The truth is that Romney got more votes than McCain did in 2008.
The truth is that a rumored-to-be-reluctant Romney knocked himself out to campaign for the job.
And my challenge, which no one has been able to answer yet, is for someone to tell me which of the declared candidates would have done better as the GOP nominee. No fair picking people who didn’t run, either – for whatever reason, they opted out. And as Rumsfeld famously declared, you go to war with the army you have.
I believed enough in the Romney campaign by the end to be willing to go to Washington D.C. and work for the administration if they’d have me. I’d never felt that before about a candidate. I certainly didn’t expect to feel it about Romney. People who know me know I don’t have political heroes – I’m too jaded for that. What I responded to was the idea that we could undo some of the damage I feel that an Obama presidency has had on our country, and I felt the urgency and necessity of DOING BIG THINGS to turn things around. I believed Romney could do it. I still believe he could have, given the chance.
And when I look around for someone to blame for a second Obama presidency, I don’t have to go farther than the mirror. Technology is crucial, messaging is vital, information is key; but without people willing to go deploy them, a campaign is empty.
I didn’t do enough. People like me didn’t do enough.
But I don’t intend to repeat the mistake.