Since Peter Lawler asked, but the conclusions are sobering.
1. Of all the candidates who ran for the Republican nomination, Romney was best able to talk fluently about a range of national issues, while building a national campaign and fundraising organization. Perry could not do the former. Gingrich and Santorum could not do the latter. Herman Cain couldn’t do either. Romney was by far the best Republican general election candidate of those who chose to run.
2. The Romney campaign’s weaknesses were real, but they weren’t simply the Romney campaign’s weaknesses. The lousy and incredibly expensive thirty second ads, the inability to correctly estimate the demographics of the electorate, the lack of an agenda that didn’t just seem like tax cuts for somebody else, and the inability to speak intelligibly to younger and nonwhite voters weren’t just Romney problems. These were the flaws of the majority of the Republican party in 2012. Karl Rove managed to solve exactly zero of those issues with his hundreds of millions of dollars (though it wasn’t Rove’s job to craft an issue agenda.)
3. Peter Lawler is right that maybe the key moment of the 2012 campaign was the Democratic National Convention speech where Bill Clinton explained why the economic crisis was the fault of the Republicans and the feeble recovery was not the fault of the Democrats. You could see where Obama’s job approval jumped from his previous range of between forty-seven and forty-eight percent to between forty-nine and fifty percent where it basically stayed for the rest of the campaign.
The Democrats treated the median voter as someone who needed to be reached out to and convinced. The Republicans never told a similar story about the causes of the economic downturn and how Republican policies would lead to broadly rising living standards – other than by extolling high earner, job creator, entrepreneurs who “built that.” And you know what? That Republican story wasn’t going to be told this year. It was beyond Romney, his consultants, and the right-leaning outside groups. Even if Romney and his allies had been able to craft such a story, I don’t see how they would tell it to the marginal voter(s) of the 2012 electorate.
The Romney campaign acted like the median voter of 2012 was someone who had voted for Reagan in 1984 and George H.W. Bush in 1988, but who had occasionally strayed from the Republicans when the Democrats had favorable circumstances and exceptional candidates in their favor. The Republican consultant class, at its best, has been about reassembling the Reagan coalition. And they succeeded in 2012. They got the band back together. Romney won the 2012 presidential election in the demographic America of 1980, 1984, 1988, and 1992. The failures of the Republican party to adjust to demographic changes and to speak to people who are too young to remember the Reagan presidency are not primarily the fault of Mitt Romney.
Update: I would add that I’m all for dumping and otherwise ignoring Romney. For all of his competence is certain areas, Romney’s approach to politics was to-the-bone cynical and, even if he wasn’t the problem, he was still a manifestation of the problem (sometimes cartoonishly so – as in the famous forty-seven percent remarks.) That the other Republican candidates were worse is not a defense of Romney, but rather an illustration of the depth of the problem. Let’s all move on from Romney as fast as possible, but let’s not put too much of the blame on him either. There is plenty to go around.