The conventional wisdom before the 2012 election was that President Obama had been severely damaged, even fatally wounded, in his first term. The recovery had been slow and weak. Government was gridlocked. After years of being tongue-tied trying to express their revulsion to Obama, without saying "'Cause he's a nigger," conservatives had at last layered enough code words around it to unite a wide swath of middle America against him.
(A note is necessary here. Many Republicans and conservatives are not racists. It is possible that Republicans would have been willing to harm the country just to make a white Democratic a one-term president. That being said, the foundation stone of the Republican Party's antigovernment campaign is the claim that liberal government is taking money from us, the hard-working white folks, and giving it away to undeserving, lazy, dark people. Maps showing the slave states, and later on the states for and against segregation, define the essential bedrock of the Republican Party. For Republicans howling in response to that—yes, Lincoln was a Republican, the solid South used to be Democratic, and Republicans did help LBJ break segregation, but after that, white Southerners abandoned the Democratic Party and marched over to the Republican camp.)
A Republican should have been able to win in a walk. The postelection conventional wisdom is, therefore, that Romney was a bad candidate who ran a bad campaign.
It seems to me that Romney was a superb candidate who ran an excellent campaign. Almost one of genius. Maybe not compared to an imaginary perfect race in the mind of a pundit who thinks it would have been different if the candidate had taken his advice, but certainly as compared to the real alternatives.
The Republicans had a variety of candidates to choose from. It could have been Rick Santorum. Here's a quote from the Wit & Wisdom of Rick, "One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country. It's not okay. It's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." Along with losing the women's vote, he'd have lost the grown-ups' vote. Not even older white-male voters want the possibility of having sex for fun taken away.
There's Newt. Forget that Gingrich was having an affair while he led the charge against Bill Clinton over the Lewinsky affair, that he left that wife while she had cancer, cheated on his next wife, and asked her for an open marriage, given that Callista, who became his third wife, "won't mind," thereby having earned the title King of the Hypocrites. Newt regards himself as millennial genius, yet he wasn't together enough to even get on the primary ballot in Virginia or Missouri. How would he have fared against Obama's get-out-the-vote machine?
Ron Paul! He is special. Pull out of both wars, legalize drugs, get the federal government out of almost everything, end the income tax, the IRS, and the Federal Reserve, withdraw from NATO and the UN, dump the dollar as legal tender and let there be a free market for currency. As for health care, let's go back to the days of his youth, when you could pay a doctor with a spare chicken. For a triple bypass? For cancer surgery and chemo? Ron Paul was in congress for 22 years. He introduced 620 bills. Only one got passed into law.
Rick Perry. Gosh, he sure came on as Macho Man but left like the Scarecrow, singing, "If I only had a brain." Actually, he's probably pretty bright. Maybe he's just on meds. Heavy meds. Herman Cain was gonna solve allllll our problems with one great pizza promotion! Nine-nine-nine! With as many free toppings as you want! Michelle Bachmann signed a statement that black people were better off under slavery than they are today. Of course, her consort was the ever delightful Marcus, who runs a Christian counseling clinic that is reputed to cure gays. If she had been elected, his flounce through the halls of the White House would have been more feminine than several First Ladies.
Jon Huntsman. Poor Jon, he was often reasonable and sane. Republican primary voters wouldn't have chosen him dog catcher, for fear he wouldn't be severe enough.
Romney had a reputation for having been like Huntsman—reality based, willing to make practical decisions (health care), and to compromise (pro-choice). Mitt played it better than Jon. He swore up and down that he would be a protector of the preborn, would not help anyone who was postborn, and would never let facts pervert his ideological choices. As for all the things he'd actually done, who should the voters believe: him, or their lying eyes? They believed him.
Then, when he had the nomination, he did The Pivot. Not the old primary-to-general-election half turn, in which a candidate ameliorates some extreme expressions. Anybody can do that. He brought a new step, The Romney Pivot, in which the candidate spins from way Far Right of his opponent and pops up just to his opponent's Left, while totally denying that he'd ever been over in his previous position. That takes audacity of a kind never seen before, not even if you count Tom DeLay's appearance on "Dancing with the Stars." Simultaneously, he managed to convince the Religious Right that even though he was a Mormon—heretofore a non-Christian cult—that he was the real Christian, not Obama.
Romney made very few missteps. He used direct speech, instead of code, to describe his party's worldview about the 47 percent, the makers and the takers. One set of his misstatements was about major corporations, GM and Chrysler. That was not acceptable. He and his team figured that minorities wouldn't come out and vote.
So kudos to Romney. It's tough to run on discredited ideas. It's tough to fully embrace them, as your base demands, while simultaneously denying them to the more general electorate. He had terrible cards, but he played his hand far better than it deserved.