"It is obviously true that Obama and his allies took some tough swings at Romney, and I’m sure it’s true that some of these swings were unfair. But that’s politics."

The treatment of Romney during that campaign was very influential to my political views of today. And it has nothing at all to do with anything Obama or Biden said. It was, rather, the way the media (which Matt claims doesn't exist, but c'mon) almost uniformly coalesced behind Obama. Candy Crowley (as moderator) interjecting to "correct" Romney during a debate -- a correction she had to later retract since she was wrong. The "binders full of women" joke that was repeated and amplified by the media. Mischaracterizing his time at Bain. But I'm not going to convince anyone with anecdotes, and won't try.

I get it. Obama was his generation's JFK. Young, educated, professorial, mixed race, global. He represented The Future most journalists, bloggers and young college grads yearned for. He beat the mistrusted and feared Clinton machine. His 2008 quote was, for them, accurate: "We are the ones we have been waiting for." His vision was inspirational and it moved people. And a group of people it particularly moved were the journalists and staffers at most media operations.

The reason the Mitt experience was formative for me was I saw the Democratic Party, the media, Hollywood and the "establishment" broadly defined as being aligned more clearly than I had ever noticed. With the passage of time, I think the 2012 campaign set the stage for the class and education realignment we see today.

Expand full comment

This post seems correct to me. I would add two points:

1) The 2012 election was probably the high point of my lifetime in terms of candidate quality. Obviously their political positions differed but both Obama and Romney were highly capable people with high integrity and strong values. As a result garden variety political attacks seem even more petty than usual.

2) The formula Trump unlocked to moderate on social programs was to go hard right on immigration, nationalist on foreign policy, and make highly transactional commitments to the pro life movement as cover for that moderation. (As a businessman he, like Bush & Romney, didn’t need to worry much about shoring up the low-tax/deregulatory portion of the platform). What’s wild is that as far as I know, nobody in Republican circles thought in 2012 or 2014 that this play could work. It’s interesting to imagine if say Rick Perry or Chris Christie or Ted Cruz had gone down that path--would they have had the success Trump had? More? Less?

Expand full comment

I have found the "myth of innocence" of the GOP more galling than any Trumpism.

I have been hearing this for decades.

Does anyone remember Dukakis?

I mean come on...

Realistically the 2012 campaign was bean bag compared to the usual stuff.

Expand full comment

I think Trump also picked up support, and more loyalty, after he was elected because of the reaction to his election. The cultural climate of 2017 already seems like a fugue state.

Our portion of the media, our culture (both Hollywood and the people who cover it), along with any sector dominated by liberals (HR departments, in my part of the world) sort of went insane. We had one hysterical moral panic after the next, with collateral damage that seemed to include values like free speech and due process.

I think in particular of the movie and TV critics that I was reading and listening to. They sort of became a woke hive mind, some from enthusiasm and some just seemed sort of afraid. There were s few critics that I followed who had very distinctive voices until 2017 and then, well, every woke-scold sounds like every woke-scold.

I think that the unified outrage and overnight cultural overhaul served to push more normal Republicans into the Trump camp more firmly.

Expand full comment

I love that that the party of personal responsibility (once upon a time, anyway) is now the party of "you hurt my feelings so I turned mean". Break out the fainting couch.

Expand full comment

Bethany Mandel's expressed resentment may go only back to Mitt Romney, but the collective right wing resentment of the mainstream refusing to unquestionably accept their most cherished beliefs goes a much longer way back. That's the whole reason Fox News and talk radio date back 30+ years, and that's even despite the long and popular Reagan era. One could even go further back than that: Nixon's fear and loathing, disappointment of Eisenhower's presidency and Goldwater getting crushed, and perhaps going all the way back to the anti-New Dealers. This slice of the right will never be satisfied in this regard.

Expand full comment

You write as if voters are really informed and make decisions based on the issues. Did they really understand that Trump was more economically moderate than Romney? That wasn't my experience talking to voters, and it doesn't seem to be what the data shows, at least according to the book Democracy For Realists.

A lot of people outside elite circles were upset that the government was looking the other way on illegal immigration, and were excited that finally someone was taking it seriously. That's the only 2016 policy issue anyone ever talked to me about. But they didn't know or care that Obama had actually quietly significantly increased deportations.

But also, the election was super close and Hillary was a vastly unpopular opponent. And a lot of baseless attacks (her emails!) seemed more important than any real issues. Probably random chance and partisan groupthink had a greater role than any real issue, or at least that's the argument in Democracy For Realists. Why are you so certain that voters understood the policy stakes of the 2016 election?

Expand full comment
Sep 1, 2022Liked by Milan Singh

By "Romney’s 2016 platform was wild", do you mean his 2012 platform?

Expand full comment

I feel like it's just as correct to frame the difference between Romney '12 and Trump '16, rather than right vs moderate, as a Romney actually being willing to attempt to articulate and make the case for serious positions and their inescapable trade offs vs Trump having no serious positions and simply saying anything to win. It's an incredibly bad shift that is in fact arguably tied to Romney being so thoroughly attacked on shabby grounds rather than fairly confronting the positions he was advocating. The lesson seems to have been "Don't take public positions. Just say whatever works to take power." Which is a paradigm that Trump is a perfect avatar for.

Expand full comment

I agree that “it’s all about Mitt Romney” is whiny and dumb, but the fact that Trump openly hates Democrats is a pretty compelling reason the conservative movement likes him as well. Policy is part of the draw, but it’s giving them way too much credit to pretend that personal resentments don’t play a part in this.

Expand full comment

This is all true, and you didn't even mention that Romney specifically embraced Trump's birther claims (and Trump himself!) during the 2012 campaign in an effort to court the hard-right base.

Expand full comment

There are two types of people. One group views the world in terms of right versus wrong, the other is concerned more about winning versus losing. Political parties used to have lots of both types in them. For example, Jack Kennedy was a win/lose guy and Bobby was a right/wrong guy.

Political races used to be driven by issues, which right/wrong people love to debate about. My opinion is that the Republicans realized after 2012 that they no longer could win on the issues. “Peace through Strength” and “Trickle-down Economics” had run their course after the Bush years. Trump is 100% a win/lose guy. He simply built a coalition of people who the Democrats deemed “wrong” on issues and turned them into winners in 2016. No party platform, issues be damned. Populism.

Since the Trump coalition has always had a ceiling off about 40%, the best option to beat them is to unite the 60% and run a win/lose battle against Trump (or MAGA). To do this you need Republicans or former Republicans who care about issues (considered “losers” by Trump) to join the Democrats. It worked for Biden. If the Democrats want to win in ‘22/‘24, then they need to embrace Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney rather than shaming them because their views on certain issues. Quit talking about progressive issues and make it a referendum on an issue the 60% can rally behind, like saving our democracy. Or frame them in a way that appeals to all, like Dobbs was bad because it restricts freedom. Seems to me they are starting to figure this out by their actions of the last couple months.

“Duh, winning!”

Expand full comment

This would be more convincing if the majority of the 2012 Obama campaign was built around policy differences with Romney. Of course, it wasn't. In the eyes of Democrats and the media all Republicans and conservatives are racists and fascists bent on destroying America. See Johnson, Lyndon "daisy ad." George W Bush was going to install a theocracy right after he went to war with Iran and canceled the 2008 elections.

I have no use for Trump or his enablers, but the Democrats and their media allies spent years laying the ground work for the politics we have today.

Expand full comment

I have wondered why the Republican critics of Social Security and Medicare have not forced their Democratic opponents to take a position on addressing the long term financing shortfalls. The most recent Trustees Report anticipates insufficient funding starting in 2034. [1]

The most straightforward solution is to increase (or eliminate) the current payroll tax ceiling of $147k. But many Democratic politicians have decided that increasing taxes on anyone earning less than $400k is politically untenable. So they might have to propose making payroll taxes progressive or funding out of the general fund. And the recent BBB/IRA legislation fiasco shows how hard it is for Democrats to reach a consensus to raise any taxes.

Regardless of approach, it would require Democrats to champion a substantial tax increase—possibly including incomes below $400k—without any commensurate new benefits. Or they’d have to give ground to the Republicans and propose some benefits cuts such as increasing the retirement age for future beneficiaries.

I could see Republican welfare critics potentially garnering more support when their solutions are contrasted against alternative approaches that will allow the programs to be sustained. Although I personally hope we can just find a way to raise more tax revenue and don’t think we need to be so squeamish about further taxing incomes in the $100-400k range.

[1] https://www.ssa.gov/oact/TR/2022/II_D_project.html#105057

Expand full comment

I think Matt makes a good underlying point, but I think a steelman response is this is about the media not the public.

For example - in the Democratic 2020 primary candidates said things that were at least as crazy as what Romney was saying in 2012. And the non conservative media response was very different. In part for reasons you have articulated before - the media is full of young politically left people who like those ideas!

The public pushed back on them and the more moderate candidate won in Joe Biden, but then the moderate candidate barely eked out a victory against Trump (AGAINST TRUMP!) because his positions were much further left than any previous Democratic president. And even though Biden's policy agenda swung left once he won the primary, you didn't get a media response anywhere close to the same way that Romney was covered.

Expand full comment

It didn't win him the election but I'll never forget how Romney absolutely wiped the floor with Obama during their first debate, essentially ambushing him by reverting to the Massachusetts Mitt persona for the evening without having telegraphed the change in advance.

I've never seen a major debate be so one-sided, and this was agains Obama, a once-in-a-generation political talent.

Expand full comment