In the midst of the latest dust up between Donald Trump and Mitt Romney, the latter of which went after the president over the current Ukraine mess, a common theme has popped up in the Trump-skeptical Republican circles.
It goes something like this: The only reason Trump won is because he faced a bad candidate and the only reason Mitt Romney lost is because he faced an unbeatable juggernaut, thereby Mitt Romney is actually a better candidate compared to Trump. The purpose of this argument is to assert that we need to go back in that direction post-Trump.
Do people dumping on Romney actually think Trump could have beaten Obama in 2012? Seriously?
— Christian Vanderbrouk (@UrbanAchievr) October 5, 2019
It’s worth noting that Mitt Romney — as well many of those in the 2016 Republican primary — likely would’ve beaten Hillary Clinton. She was a uniquely terrible candidate.
— Jerry Dunleavy (@JerryDunleavy) October 5, 2019
You see this come up anytime someone criticizes Romney’s performance in 2012, which Trump did earlier over the weekend. I suppose it makes certain people feel better to assert that Romney was actually the superior candidate, thereby reinforcing their biases against Trump. To be frank though, this analysis is total crap and relies on several false assumptions.
First, to say Romney would beat Hillary because she was a “uniquely terrible candidate” means we must assume Romney was not a terrible candidate himself. I’d confidently posit that he was. Romney was every anti-Republican stereotype wrapped into a perfectly punch-able package. You could not have created a candidate in a lab that more perfectly alienated blue collar workers in the the rust belt than Mitt Romney. While a certain segment of Republican finds him extremely endearing, most people did not. They found him to be a contrived, flip-flopping politician with neither an ability to connect with the average voter, nor the politics to satisfy the metropolitan elite.
Secondly, the idea that Barack Obama was an unbeatable, flawless candidate is a complete rewriting of history. In reality, his approval ratings languished in the low 40s for much of the campaign until Romney became the set alternative (again testifying to the fact that Romney just wasn’t a very good candidate). Obama was mired in a bad economy and numerous foreign policy blunders. While it’s hard to remember now, there was actually a time in 2016 where a lot of prognosticators weren’t favoring the former president to be re-elected. Was Obama a better candidate than Hillary Clinton? Sure. But did he present some insurmountable challenge for an otherwise awesome candidate in Mitt Romney? Hardly, and it’s just excuse making for Romney’s failures to pretend otherwise.
Lastly, we constantly hear that Romney won more popular votes in 2012 than Trump did in 2016. But so what? We don’t elect people via the popular vote, as I think we all know. The map Romney would have needed to win is far more important. Could he have won the rust belt? Let’s talk about it.
In reality it’s the “CW” that Trump was uniquely able to win a state like Wisconsin & that Romney never could’ve… except Romney got more votes in Wisconsin (1,408,746) than Trump (1,405,284) & did so against a vastly superior candidate who actually, you know, visited the state. https://t.co/BxG2AIK0JB
— Jerry Dunleavy (@JerryDunleavy) October 6, 2019
This analysis is extremely flawed. Yes, Romney managed a handful more votes in WI than Trump. You know where he didn’t come close to besting Trump though? In Ohio, in Michigan, and in Pennsylvania.
For example, Trump won OH by 7 points and over 200,000 votes. He put up nearly 300,000 more votes there than Romney did, who lost the state by 3 points. In fact, Trump won more votes in 2016 in OH than Obama did in 2012. The same story plays out in Michigan, where Trump won more total votes than Romney and won the state, whereas Romney lost it by 10 points. But would Romney have somehow pulled CO and NV instead? Highly unlikely given how blue those states were turning before 2016 even happened. Perhaps he’d have made it closer, but closer doesn’t win elections.
Here’s the biggest false assumption though. Trump didn’t win 2016 simply because Hillary was a terrible candidate in a vacuum. He won because he relentlessly went after her, pulling her down to his level and ultimately overtaking her. In short, Trump is the one who made her a terrible candidate. Would Romney have done that? Would he have brought Juanita Broadrick to a debate or pushed the email scandal to its limits? Of course he wouldn’t have. He’d of told us how he’s friends with Hillary but that he just doesn’t think she’s right for the job. We’d have gotten the same milquetoast, low energy campaign he gave us in 2012 and it’d have led to his defeat.
The point is this. Enough pretending that Trump didn’t do something special in 2016. Enough downplaying his unique ability to connect with Democrat leaning blue collar workers. Stop acting like actually fighting back is irrelevant in politics. It’s time to start recognizing the political lessons Trump has exposed, even if you don’t like him personally.
So no, despite what some conservatives are saying, Mitt Romney would not have won in 2016 and he was not a superior candidate to Trump.
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