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Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question as U.S. President Barack Obama listens during the first presidential debate in Denver October 3, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS USA PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION)
Instead of asking why Mitt Romney lost the election, the question Republicans should be asking themselves is why he was able to come so close after the first debate—and why things started to slip away less than two weeks later. If you think back, on Oct. 3, Nate Silver's model gave Romney just a 13 percent change of winning. Nine days later, it had tripled to 39 percent—the closest Romney ever got in FiveThirtyEight simulations.

That Romney surge was a clear result of the first debate, and while part of it had to do with the way in which both Romney and the president presented themselves, it is also worth remembering that the message Romney delivered during that first debate was dramatically different than the conservative message he'd been delivering throughout the campaign. Instead, it was a breathtaking march to the middle—including a few statements that could have been made by a liberal.

Here's a few examples:

  • Romney tried to sound like he opposed tax cuts for the wealthy: "I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans."
  • Romney said he liked green energy: "I'm all in favor of green energy."
  • Romney said his health care plan would cover preexisting conditions: "In fact, I do have a plan that deals with people with pre-existing conditions. That's part of my health care plan."
  • Romney positioned himself as a champion of Medicare: "If the president were to be re-elected, you’re going to see a $716 billion cut to Medicare. You'll have 4 million people who will lose Medicare advantage. You'll have hospitals and providers that'll no longer accept Medicare patients. I'll restore that $716 billion to Medicare."
  • Romney extolled the virtues of bipartisan cooperation: "Republicans and Democrats both love America, but we need to have leadership—leadership in Washington that will actually bring people together and get the job done and could not care less if it's a Republican or a Democrat. I've done it before. I'll do it again."

To give you a sense of just how eager Romney was to move to the middle, you may remember that the day after the debate he told Sean Hannity that he would have completely renounced his 47 percent comments, even though he'd been defending them just days earlier. Obviously Romney's move to the middle was baloney, but because President Obama decided against making an aggressive rebuttal during the debate, Romney's campaign suddenly had new life.

Despite having taken severely conservative policy positions throughout the campaign, Romney had presented himself during the debate as a moderate and he was rewarded for it with a huge bump in the polls. But despite this success, Romney still had a problem: Voters may have liked the Moderate Mitt that emerged at the debate, but his severely conservative alter ego was still alive and well. True, Severely Conservative Mitt was in hiding, but as soon as President Obama and his campaign began reminding voters about the other side of Mitt's mouth, his numbers began to snap back to reality.

In the end, short of having run a primary campaign that would have resulted in defeat, there's nothing Romney could have done to make Severely Conservative Mitt disappear completely. The only question was whether the Obama campaign would be able to remind voters that Romney's journey to the middle was a fraud. Ultimately, they managed to do it. But one thing is clear: If Mitt Romney had somehow been able to convince voters that Moderate Mitt was the real Mitt, he would have had a much better shot at winning yesterday's election.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Mitt should have shaken something other than an (9+ / 0-)

    Etch-A-Sketch

    Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.

    by darthstar on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:02:02 PM PST

  •  Romney: "It's just a JUMP to the left!" nt (6+ / 0-)

    -4.75, -5.33 Cheney 10/05/04: "I have not suggested there is a connection between Iraq and 9/11."

    by sunbro on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:03:20 PM PST

  •  Shhh, don't let them hear that ... (9+ / 0-)

    Let them drive hard right -off that political cliff ...

    If not us ... who? If not here ... where? If not now ... when?

    by RUNDOWN on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:03:23 PM PST

  •  Jed would love to see you do something about the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FishOutofWater, Gentle Giant

    vision the President presented in his acceptance speech. Romney? Meh.

    Move Single Payer Forward? Join 18,000 Doctors of PNHP and 185,000 member National Nurses United

    by divineorder on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:07:52 PM PST

  •  He wasn't conservative enough. LOLZ. (12+ / 0-)

    Let them paint themselves into a small corner of the back woods of Alabama.

    look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening.

    by FishOutofWater on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:10:28 PM PST

  •  I don't know if we can give Romney much (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cany, Gentle Giant, Matt Z

    credit for "Etch-A-Sketching" to the middle. A big part of his "bump" was due to Obama relatively lack-luster performance. If Obama had played hardball in that first debate I doubt anything Romney said would've mattered. As proof I offer the third debate. Romney practically fell-over himself trying to agree with the President on nearly everything and failed.

    Attention rich bastards, this is real important,
    I thought you might want to know
    That $5,000 suits don't hide your 5¢ souls.

    by ontheleftcoast on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:10:37 PM PST

    •  Agree, but Mitt has NO footing on foreign affairs. (5+ / 0-)

      IMHO, had he debated Joe Biden, he would have been in even bigger trouble.

      202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

      by cany on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:15:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  the bump (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ontheleftcoast

      was Team Red coming home to their candidate, which they would have done eventually anyway.

      Hey, I need a new signature.

      It's been a hundred years, isn't it time we stopped blaming Captain Smith for sinking the Titanic?

      by happymisanthropy on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:31:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The media exaggerated Obama's first debate (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dougymi, MaikeH

      performance to create their "horse race" narrative. He may not have been very aggressive and attacked Romney the way we would have liked, but plenty of politicians play it safe in initial debates and use the "Prevent Defense" on subjects where they are not perceived as being very strong. Since they were talking about economic issues, which was supposed to be where Romney had his strongest arguments, Obama tried not to give Romney too many openings. But, I still think Obama won on the substance of what he said and Romney simply managed to dance around him and be a smooth-talking liar. Obama won on the issues, but Romney pelted him with lies. Notice that in the last debate on foreign policy, Romney tried the Prevent Defense, and the media declared that to be a brilliant strategy, even though Romney clearly lost. The bottom line is, we have a big problem with our corrupt corporate media...and we need to do something about it fast cough fairness doctrine cough, cough

      Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

      by tekno2600 on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 07:00:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The GOP thinks America is "Center-Right".... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sunbro, bryduck, happymisanthropy, Joe B

    and i think they are right!  The problem is they keep running candidates with far-right social and economic plans. Obama is bascially center-right. The pretend Mitt from the first debate, sounded like what the GOP should strive to be.

    Will they move to the center now? Don't hold your breath.

  •  Rmoneys tax move... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    happymisanthropy, winton

    ...  First thing to do..   File an amended return to claim that extra $1.5 million deduction he left off this last return to keep his rate over 10%

    During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. ~George Orwell

    by Derffie on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:12:44 PM PST

  •  Jed, great job. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gentle Giant, Randolph06

    I have been arguing with myself (neither side has won, yet) about whether it would be better for the COUNTRY to have the right stay where they are, move farther right, or move left to the center.

    The attractive thing about that latter option is that this would force dems to distinguish themselves by moving leftward, also, and given I see the dems as largely a centrist party at heart, that would be good.

    You bring up some points that I will feed into my mix. Thanks.

    202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

    by cany on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:13:45 PM PST

    •  in the House (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cany

      if there are any moderate repubs left, and they take your option 3, then we could see GOP leadership there having real problems keeping their majority together. Popular legislation championed by the President and passing the Senate could really set up some great internal GOP struggles and would make the House all that much more ours in 2014.

      •  Yep, that's my thinking, too. (0+ / 0-)

        202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

        by cany on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:46:50 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Blaspheme! (5+ / 0-)

    We all know that the ONLY reason Mitt lost is because he wasn't conservative enough. Remind your GOP friends of this every day. It's really the supposed lesson they get every time they lose.

    And I'm happy if they keep going further right.

    "She was very young,he thought,...she did not understand that to push an inconvenient person over a cliff solves nothing." -1984

    by aggressiveprogressive on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:14:16 PM PST

  •  Romney "won" the 1st debate by telling blatant (10+ / 0-)

    lies with a straight face and Obama not calling him on it then and there.

    Romney's slide back down was caused by the electorate coming to the realization that he was lying.

  •  The GOP name is indelibly stained. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DaddyO, Mistral Wind

    Any remaining republicans whose ideology is what passes for moderate on the Right should take note of the nut jobs who advocate abandoning the GOP to form a new party that is even more radical. The "moderates" should beat them to the punch & leave the party first & do so publicly & loudly, making a spectacle the press can't help but sink their teeth into. Leave the tinfoilers with the spoiled GOP name. Create a new party proclaiming a more moderate, saner platform/philosophy. Move halfway to the center & they'll appear downright bipartisan in comparison.

    Or not. I kind of like the way things are headed for them.

    I believe in democracy, civil liberties, and the rule of law. That makes me a liberal, and I’m proud of it. - Paul Krugman

    by Gentle Giant on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:17:12 PM PST

  •  Obama should seize on that centrist Romney (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gentle Giant, Mistral Wind, winton

    Obama said last night that he would be calling Romney to talk about working together on some issues.

    Maybe he's setting up Romney as the centrist, sane, GOP leader, as a pleasant contrast to the voices in the House and Senate.

     

    And remember: If you don't like the news, go out and make some of your own. - Scoop Nisker, the Last News Show

    by North Madison on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:18:20 PM PST

  •  There should be a consolation prize for the loser. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gentle Giant

    I think that Obamacare should be renamed Romney care as a parting gift for Mitt. After all it was his legislation that was the
    blueprint for the Affordable Care Act. This would accomplish
    a few things: it would keep Romney's defeat in the minds of
    Tea Party Republicans and gnaw into their souls knowing that another attempt at repeal is pretty much futile. Hence forth and forever I officially proclaim today is National Romney Care Day!
     

  •  It was the combo: he was also "5-Hr-Energy Mitt" (0+ / 0-)

    as well as "Moderate Mitt" on that particular night - we saw a new Romney all amped up and direct eye contact and standing tall and super-duper-hungry for the job.  Jabbering like a cokehead, but it worked.  Whereas Obama came across as downcast and self-effacing and somewhat disengaged.  It was the 'smallest' we had ever seen Obama seem, in a public speaking setting.  I still wonder what happened there with Obama; was he wiped out from dealing with other issues as President on that particular day or something.  A minor footnote to an otherwise terrific campaign from Obama and his whole team, but I'm still curious.

    •  I believe the problem w/Obama's 1st debate was (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Torta

      diarrhea.

      I'm not kidding. Think about it.

      Either literally, or the crap coming out of Romney's mouth.

      I believe in democracy, civil liberties, and the rule of law. That makes me a liberal, and I’m proud of it. - Paul Krugman

      by Gentle Giant on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:26:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It was the one time I said "you clever bastard" (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Gentle Giant

        to Mitt Romney.  He is usually not so clever.

        He told us all what he was going to do, and exactly how.  Except he projected it onto Obama.

        Mitt:  Gosh, I am sure quite concerned about the first debate.

        Media: Why?

        Mitt: Gosh, it's because Obama is just going to throw out so many lies and lies and lies, so many of them, and how can a person debate against that?

        Us, hearing this: OMG that is so ridiculous - Mitt is the liar. And besides we heard something about 'zingers'.  Mitt is rehearsing zingers.  What zingers do you think he will say?  I bet his zingers will go over poorly.

        Mitt:  (heh heh heh...)

        I didn't think Romney was particularly clever for most of the campaign, but that part, I have to hand it to him.  Loathesome in terms of his contribution to public discourse, but highly effective in throwing Obama off his game for one crucial night.  

  •  I'm glad you mentioned it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gentle Giant

    Because...we've been saying it for four years now...yes, BEFORE his first election...

    All Obama had to do to insure his re-election was to skew to the left. Americans want EVERYTHING the left wants. All he had to do was champion it--instead of losing sleep about O'Reilly calling for comment.

    Is it safe to start pushing him to the left again? Because I can't see a single downside to that strategy. Not one.

    "I feel a lot safer already."--Emil Sitka

    by DaddyO on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:21:03 PM PST

  •  The more you "know" Romney, the worse he gets (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gentle Giant, vcmvo2, MaikeH

    That, to me, was his biggest problem all the way through this election.

    After Debate #1, he got a bump from people who hadn't been paying much attention until then. I used to think it was impossible to be that clueless, but those people are out there.

    They then had a couple of weeks to learn more about him, and the Romney Rule kicked in, as it inevitably does: the more you see him in action, the more you see what a dangerous phony he is.

  •  He's a pathological liar (1+ / 0-)

    And that's all he did at the debate. He still looks like he was on speed to me.

    There was absolutely no way to stop him and that Gish gallop he does. Obama was more effective later because he could mock the moderate Mitt vs the severely conservative Mitt w/ video proof.

    Republicans may use twitter and other social media but they still don't understand that there is always youTube and phone videos now. If they lie like that in such egregious ways or make their ridiculous rape statements, well eventually it kicks you in the ass.

    They deserved the asskicking from Latinos, women and gays. Their policies also suck!

    In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God ~RFK

    by vcmvo2 on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:28:06 PM PST

  •  asdf (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gooserock, Gentle Giant

    I think you misquoted him.

    "I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans."
    Wasn't the actual quote...
    I will not reduce the share of the tax burden paid by high-income Americans.
    Meaning that as long as income inequality rises faster than tax rates fall, the share of the tax burden paid by the rich will always go up.

    It's been a hundred years, isn't it time we stopped blaming Captain Smith for sinking the Titanic?

    by happymisanthropy on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:28:52 PM PST

  •  I would like to hear ... (0+ / 0-)

    ... the whole back story of the debate "Jump to the Left." I'm sure there will be versions of it leaking out of the campaign.

    I wonder if that was the plan for a long time -- their own October Surprise.

  •  Well Their Conservative Big Funders Will Simply (0+ / 0-)

    have them go back to not saying out loud how they're going to actually govern. It worked spectacularly for many Tea Partiers in 2010.

    They just have to have a serious sit-down with the religious right leaderships and any RR candidates.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:31:50 PM PST

  •  America consistently rejects conservatism. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DaddyO

    At least the kind that rules the current Republican party.  And it's time the media finally got that message.  The Democratic candidate for President has gotten more votes in 5 out of the last 6 presidential elections.  That is astounding dominance.  The only exception was close verdict in 2004, the first post 9/11 election where some people were just scared to change leaders during heightened concern about terrorism and war.

  •  The Return of the Fire Eaters (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    winton

    I think the point that you make is a very interesting one, which I hadn't previously considered. Listening to some conservative radio since last night, I was really stunned by how dense Conservative media seem to be.

    Romney's loss is the fault of the educational system (which I work in). Romney's loss was because of the promise of freebies which I guess is the only reason minorities will vote for him. Romney's loss was because Romney didn't talk about Benghazi. He lost because of ANYTHING other than the conservative principles he (at times and in certain audiences only) advocated. The Tea Party, one claimed, was the only source of any Republican success (he was counting Rubio, the TX senator et al). (WTF??!)

    They would never ever in a million years concede this basic point that you make here, and which I think is rather astute. Possibly even true - though you would have to invent a new vocabulary to explain to Sally Redneck that even though the gubmint actually funds her Medicaid, that what she receives is "not" Medicaid but a universal health policy provided from magic rainbows and the Confidence Fairy.  

    In the ante-bellum period, the Southern political class developed a specific cohort of fellows, who were soon called Fire-Eaters b/c of their unwavering, unstoppable, scorched-earth support for slavery and white supremacy. They were the first advocates of secession. The parallel is imperfect here b/c I can't see the Teatards actually advocating secession (No, you can't.) but they will be the force that prevents the Republican party from being able to govern.

    Anyway, it seems like a fit title for them. Rush, Howie and all those hyper-conservative Teatards are the modern Fire-Eaters: scorched-earth, obstructionist white supremacists. Even O'Reilly admitted it.

    "You know, the only trouble with capitalism is capitalists; they're too damn greedy." - Herbert Hoover (Republican)

    by abdguyBOS on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:49:20 PM PST

  •  Sandy gave him a real opportunity, but he blew it. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MaikeH

    If Mitt and his buddies had pledged a few hundred million bucks for the relief efforts, I think he could have swayed enough voters to have swung a few states.

    He could have demonstrated a compassionate, benevolent role for the wealthy, and dominated the media right up to the election.  He could have been the one with all the coverage with Christie, and it would have shown a kinder, caring person (i.e. a human).

    Fortunately, the real Mitt showed up, and we got a pathetic can-goods drive. I guess he couldn't override his true nature of looking down on the underclass. Hell, even a good politician would have looked for a grand gesture at that stage in the campaign, but it never occured to him. Just proves that greed is more than skin deep.

    But we dodged a big one.  Good thing that generousity is not in his DNA, nor in any of his advisors.

    Hello 9 1 1? There s an old man beating a child on my tv. -Bill Maher ‏@billmaher

    by TheDuckManCometh on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 05:53:00 PM PST

    •  I agree. (0+ / 0-)

      If Mitt would have used his much-touted business acumen to bring in a few millions for the relief effort, by golly he might have been Mr. President come January.

      In the end, cupidity got the best of him.  He's sort of like Jack Benny when the crook confronts him, "Your money or your life?"  And--with perfect timing--Jack's famous answer: "I'm thinking it over!"

  •  Interestingly... (0+ / 0-)

    BOTH candidates styled themselves as more liberal than they are during general election.

    Something's broken...

  •  Meanwhile.... (0+ / 0-)

    ...conservative Republicans say Romney lost because he wasn't conservative enough.

    It's an understandable response if you believe the rest of the country is just as conservative as you are. Still, what further proof to the contrary can they be waiting for?

  •  Part of the problem was his image . . . (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    vcmvo2

    of saying everything to everyone. While people will give politicians latitude during campaign, it will only go so far.

    In Massachusetts, we saw this first hand during 2004-2006 when he going making the Massachusetts the focus of his jokes and criticism.

    Rick Santorum for all his fault was about the only one who was actually consistent to the degree that would expect from a politician during the GOP campaign

  •  focus on concession and holding his party to it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    winton

    Mitt took the high road last night, but most of his friends very quickly decided differently, which is a shame.

    Meanwhile, since it is his party and their shadowy supporters we still must deal with, let's organize for 2014 to get rid of the last of the tea poopers, those would be my priorities.

    "O you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union" - Woody Guthrie from Union Maid

    by dkosdan on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 06:24:10 PM PST

  •  GOP needs to move to the center, not just lie and (0+ / 0-)

    say they are there already. Although Romney got some traction out of claiming to be a centrist toward the end of the campaign, most people soon realized he was lying about every claim he made. Even with a highly corrupt and incompetent corporate media, and a disturbingly large swath of the electorate being ridiculously gullible, the lies didn't work. So, not that I want to offer too much free advice to the Republicans, but by way of criticism, they do need to decide if constant lying and bubble dwelling is going to be their core strategy going forward. I suspect it is, and all I can say about this is good luck with that.

    Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

    by tekno2600 on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 06:31:30 PM PST

  •  Good analysis (0+ / 0-)

    Yeah, I think you're exactly right, Jed. People tuned in to the first debate, saw Mitt acting reasonable and moderate, and decided they might have misjudged him. Even I, as a committed Obama supporter, felt the debate was a draw and scratched my head, wondering if I'd been listening to too many Democratic talking points and should look more closely at Romney's plans. (Not that I would vote for the guy, but I wanted to see the details.)

    Eventually Mitt's new support faded away, as it dawned on people that this is the kind of guy who is willing to say anything to anyone in order to get elected. And he's a pretty good actor, too. He can play a rich asshole at the $50K a plate dinner, or a nice guy on national TV. But his core as a human being, his character, never shone through. Obama's does.

  •  So, There's No Way for Republicans to Win (0+ / 0-)

    Are you saying that there's no way for Republicans to win the presidency? Really, that's what this means: Their primary process is always going to deliver someone too out of touch with liberal America to ever get elected.

    Well, we could have a poor candidate run. But short of that they have no hope.

    Yippeee!!!!

  •  Suckit- you lost (0+ / 0-)

    Mitt lost day one, because the RNC squashed any and all news that Dr Ron Paul had won 18 states to Romney's 11 states early on in the primary, the RNC did everything they could to stop Dr.Paul. The problem with this is that it angers independent and Republican voters that felt betrayed by a system of lies. I also imagine that many of those people either did not vote or voted for Obama. The Republican party is fictionalized, what it meant to be a republican 15 years ago is no longer true and until the Republican get their shat together and all get on the same page, they will continue to loose.    

  •  Authenticity (0+ / 0-)

    Mitt could not have been more authentic throughout his 20 year campaign for national office with a short stop in the MA governor's office. He will do and say anything anyone wants, at that particular moment, to get elected.

    That said, we saw the real Mitt when he made the 47 percent remark and through his most important surrogate, his wife.

  •  I know an electoral autopsy is necessary (0+ / 0-)

    Yet I'm already tired of Willard "Mitt" Romney's political corpse.

    He stunk then and he stinks now.

    Perhaps one day the Fourth Estate will take their jobs seriously. Or not..

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Thu Nov 08, 2012 at 09:51:37 AM PST

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