The question "Has [fill-in-the-blank] lost touch with reality?" has become such a hackneyed and cheap phrase that it's lost almost all meaning. And yet, it's a legitimate question to ask of Mitt Romney and his campaign.
It's not even about Romney's plan for the economy, in which he proposed boosting defense spending, cutting domestic spending, and cutting taxes—a fiscal cocktail Romney insisted would result in a balanced budget, even though respected economic analysts said it would actually add $4.8 billion to the deficit. It's about the Romney camp's irrational exuberance about the candidate's own popularity.
So certain was the candidate that he would win that he didn't even trouble himself or a staffer to write a concession speech. The campaign even had ready to go a website for "the president-elect of the Unites States," complete with links to getting jobs with the administration and details of Romney's inauguration. The campaign was so confident it would become a transition team sometime Tuesday night that it was already preparing a series of polls of voters in battleground states so they could get ready for a re-election contest in 2016.
There's a standard line in politics that you should never believe your own press releases. But the campaign and its supporters' irrational exuberance defined, ironically, exactly the problem that bedeviled Romney during his entire campaign: He really doesn't see, or understand, the lives and views of people outside his shrinking circle. The Los Angeles Times, reporting from the Romney headquarters on Election night, noted:
Before Romney came out, several hundred people stood silently and sullenly, watching the returns come in.
Some struggled to understand voters' continued support for Obama: "We're aghast. Why? Why would someone vote for him?" said Sandy Nabhan, 54, of Boston.
The failure to even consider the possibility that other people think differently, want different things, don't think a venture capitalist is necessarily the best person for working America, and basically don't live on the set of Leave It to Beaver is exactly why Romney lost. How is it even possible that they thought they were going to win? It's very understandable why they thought they could win, to be sure—the polls were quite close in battleground states. But for Romney to win, every one of those polls would have had to be tilted in favor of President Obama—and that's a statistically unlikely bet, at best. Romney said he felt confident of his victory when, upon arriving at Moon Township, Pa. on Tuesday afternoon, a spontaneous crowd was there to cheer him.
In 1992, people lined up alongside the highway, sitting for hours and hours in lawn chairs to watch Bill Clinton and Al Gore's motorcade. They sat there just to watch it go by—not because they would actually get a chance to see the candidates, let alone speak to them. And the day before the election—when it seemed pretty clear from polling and other on-the-ground evidence that Clinton would win—a fellow reporter and I asked a Clinton campaign staffer if they had started thinking about possible cabinet candidates. She looked not only baffled but appalled. "Are you kidding? We aren't even thinking about that!" she said. And she meant it. And they were winning.
The country Romney seemed so sure he was going to win over is one in which women need to be home from any jobs they might have by 5 p.m., so they could get dinner on the table for their husbands and children. It's one where he believes gun violence would abate if folks got married before the woman got pregnant. It's one where he thinks workers who have seen their jobs go overseas, their salaries trimmed, and their healthcare slashed would want the central casting version of a boss to take over the economy. It's one in which he figured Latinos would just "self-deport" once they realized they couldn't become rich here.
The America that turned out Tuesday night loosened marijuana restrictions. It's one that expanded the rights of gay people to marry—or at least beat back efforts to ban same-sex unions. It elected an openly gay woman as senator of Wisconsin, and voted to make the Senate a record one-fifth female. And it re-elected the country's first African-American president, despite four relentless years by the Old America to discredit Obama as literally or figuratively un-American, a "socialist," lazy, not a "leader," or, as Ann Romney several times suggested, not a "grown-up." This is the real America. And Romney was so blinded by his own dated view of the country that he lost it.