Romney Campaign Still Stuck in the Past

Memo from Romney's chief strategist exemplifies campaign's wrong-headed strategy.

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Stuart Stevens, the chief strategist for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, is offering some fresh excuses for his campaign's failure, but he's avoiding the obvious: President Barack Obama captured the present and the future while Romney was dwelling in the past.

"On Nov. 6, Romney carried the majority of every economic group except those with less than $50,000 a year in household income," Stevens writes in Thursday's Washington Post. "That means he carried the majority of middle-class voters." Stevens seems to be assuming that Romney's "middle-class voters" were more important than voters in other groups that gave President Obama a majority of the electorate, and that's not true.

Stevens added that Romney "trounced 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."

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The problem, however, is that most Americans didn't buy it. Romney's arguments were rooted in a vision of America that had its heyday with President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. But the country has changed greatly since then.

By contrast, the core of Obama's coalition — Hispanics, African Americans, liberal and centrist-oriented young people, and single women — is growing at a relatively fast rate, while the proportion of whites in the population, which was Romney's core, is declining.

On CBS's "This Morning" Thursday, Stevens played down the idea that Obama won because of his superior organization and get-out-the-vote effort, which is a commonly held belief among political strategists of both major parties. "I'm a bit baffled that people look at the Obama campaign and say they won because of their ground game," Stevens said. He added: "I think it's somewhat underselling what the Obama campaign did with their messaging capability" by focusing on each battleground state, rather than concentrating on a national message.

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But Obama's message in these states emphasized the positive things his administration was doing today and what he would do to help specific groups in the future. Obama pointed to his effort to save the auto industry from collapse, which was vital to many auto workers; to allow more student loans; to provide a path to legal residency for many Latinos who entered the United States illegally, and to defend a woman's right to choose an abortion and obtain contraceptives.

Romney seemed locked in another generation, pledging to return America to a storied past that many voters never experienced in the first place and that seemed, in many cases, irrelevant to today's problems.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and followed on Facebook and Twitter.