I know most people would like to forget about the election, but as someone who supported Mitt Romney throughout the primary campaign — taking a lot of flak from Spectator readers in the process — I would like to defend his effort and make a few comments about the future of the Republican Party.
First of all, Romney ran a damned good race. He was up in the polls by as much as 7 points (Gallup) going into the last week. Where he got sandbagged was Hurricane Sandy. The storm captured the nation’s attention and pushed the election off the front page. It gave President Obama a chance to act presidential (with vague memories of President George Bush Jr.’s initial inaction on Hurricane Katrina reverberating in the background) and to shake hands with Chris Christie. Now I don’t fault Christie either and don’t see any nefarious plot to maneuver for 2016. A governor has to act on behalf of his state. Parts of New Jersey were devastated, and if Christie had snubbed Obama, it would have put thousands of his constituents in immediate danger — and been interpreted as his fault as well.
So let’s just call it an Act of God. Maybe the fates were shining down on President Obama. Polls showed that people who made up their minds the day they voted broke 7 percent for Obama — a sharp reversal of the usual pattern. I think the storm probably made the difference.
There was one point at which Romney made himself vulnerable to all this, however, and that was his all-out embrace of coal. Two weeks before the election I wrote a piece for the Spectator saying Romney should embrace a carbon tax as a gesture to the educated middle class that he shared their concerns about global warming. Our dearly beloved editorial director Wlad, for whom I hold the utmost esteem, turned it down — the first time in 25 years he has rejected one of my stories. He said it would amount to Romney “committing political suicide,” and in this he was undoubtedly right. Turning away from coal at that point would have branded him as a flip-flopper who changed with the political winds, and any appeal to the middle class would have been quickly erased by the press anyway.
The mistake occurred much earlier in the campaign. Romney’s bet was that enough votes could be mustered to put Virginia and Ohio in the Republican column. But coal miners and their families are a distinct minority in both states; the much more pivotal constituency is the professional middle class, which is far more concerned about global warming. (To express your conviction that global warming is a nefarious liberal plot, click here.)
Now, I will never understand why conservative commentators are so unanimous in their rejection of the possibility that human activity might be having an impact on climate. The logic seems to be that if liberals are the first to raise an issue and call for action, then it must be wrong. I agree that there have been ridiculous alarms and exaggerations in the press, but overall it’s perfectly plausible that putting huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere might affect the climate. Nor would forestalling it mean the end of industrial civilization (although factions of the environmental movement would obviously welcome that). New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s public endorsement of Obama as a result of Hurricane Sandy probably represented the inclinations of millions of middle-class Americans. That’s what cost Romney all his momentum. Had he embraced a carbon tax alongside his general support of coal, he might have blunted the impact.
ON THE WHOLE, HOWEVER, Romney ran a very tight and effective campaign. He did so well in the debates that after the one on foreign policy, people were saying Romney looked like the incumbent and Obama like the obstreperous challenger. His only unforced error was the “47 percent” comment made way back at a private fundraising event during the primaries. But most conservative commentators were saying the same thing all along: that we were on the tipping point at which the “takers” would outnumber the “makers.”