For someone who said the Obama campaign won because the president gave "gifts" to women, young people, Latinos, and African-Americans, Mitt Romney has forgotten an important part of gift-giving: It's the thought that counts.
Yes, it's true that the policies espoused by former Governor Romney and his fellow Republican candidates turned off certain categories of voters—women (single women in particular), Hispanics, gays and lesbians, and others who don't stand to make pots of money by living off of untaxed capital gains. But what really damaged GOP candidates this year was not just what the candidates said, but the underlying attitude behind those comments.
People vote against their own self-interest all the time. How else to explain why someone who will almost certainly never be a multimillionaire will still vote for someone who campaigns on getting rid of the estate tax? But it's not just the policy; it's the logic that got them to the policy. You cannot personally insult people and expect them to vote for you.
If Romney wanted to trim government benefit programs to rein in the budget, he could make an intellectual and fiscal argument for it that would not offend anyone. But his remarks about 47 percent of the country being, essentially, leeches on society, shows not a dislike of the public policy but a contempt for the actual people who receive those benefits.
Lots of lawmakers are anti-abortion, but the policy in and of itself is not a deep insult to pro-abortion rights women—many of whom will vote for an anti-abortion candidate if they are in synch with other issues. Former New Hampshire GOP Sen. John Sununu opposes abortion, but one never got the impression that his views came from a disrespect of women. When Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock made offensive comments about rape victims, their no exceptions, anti-abortion stances were shown for what they were: a resentment of female sexuality and self empowerment. Those comments displayed not a desire to protect life in any form, but a desire to keep women as incubators in waiting.
Romney, in the second debate, refused to say whether he supported the Lilly Ledbetter Act on fair pay for women. But while he could have made a business/legal argument against it, he went a different way—saying that he understood that when employers hire women, they have to be "flexible" so the female employees can be home by 5 p.m. to cook dinner for their husbands and children. That's not an argument about policy towards women—it's personal. It reflects the view that women's real job is to be homemakers, and anything they do outside the home is somehow extra, or frivolous. No wonder women are paid less.
Now, Romney has upset the Republicans who still have political futures by telling donors that Obama basically bought the election by paying off voters groups with "gifts" of public monies and policies. Actually, those programs serve the country we live in, which happens to be a country decreasingly made up of the white, straight, in-charge men whose votes Romney sought. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said it best—if you want voters to like you, you have to like them. Romney seems to be trying to figure out why not enough people liked him to make him president. Perhaps he ought to think about why he doesn't like the people he claimed to want to represent.
Corrected 11/16/12: A previous version of this blog post misspelled Lilly Ledbetter's first name.