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Republicans Failed to Understand Their Opponent

Byron York reports on the bewilderment of Romney supporters:

“I am shocked, I am blown away,” said Joe Sweeney, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “I thought I had a pretty good pulse on this stuff. I thought there was a trend that was going on underground.”

It isn’t Mr. Sweeney’s fault that he believed this, or at least not entirely. He trusted conservative media and conservative pundits not to mislead him, and they let him down badly. There really was a difference this year between the standard loyalist whistling-past-the-graveyard that one sees in every election and a full-out effort among quite a few in the conservative media to deceive Romney’s supporters about the prospects of success. It’s one thing not to want to be defeatist or to give one’s “side” reasons to doubt its success, and quite another to be boldly announcing that major, overwhelming success is just around the corner when there is no good reason to expect it. I sympathize with people who supported Romney for good, principled reasons, because they were being lied to throughout the year. First, Romney lied to them that they could trust him, and then Romney’s boosters in conservative media lied to them by painting them a rosy portrait of the political landscape that they had to know was almost certainly wrong.

But the problem wasn’t just that conservative media gave Romney supporters bad information. The people in conservative media also seem to have been fully taken in by the idea that Romney would win and would do so in decisive fashion, and the campaign came to believe its own propaganda, too. As York notes, Romney didn’t have a prepared concession speech. It apparently never occurred to his campaign that he would lose. That’s not so remarkable by itself, but it is just one part of the overall pattern of the Romney campaign and the conservative movement’s reaction to Obama. Romney spent years running against a fantasy record and campaigning on a series of gross distortions and falsehoods, and so it shouldn’t be too surprising that his campaign and his conservative media boosters didn’t have the firmest grip on political reality.

When you pretend that you’re running against another Jimmy Carter, and you actually start to believe it, you’re not fully prepared to compete with a sitting president whose record and approval ratings are nothing like Carter’s. Organizing an entire campaign on such flawed assumptions eventually came back to haunt them. Romney and his allies not only didn’t understand their opponent, but they went out of their way to make sure that they misunderstood him, and in any kind of contest that is usually a recipe for failure.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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