Have Republicans Learned from Romney’s Mistakes?

In many ways, the presidential elections of 2012 seem like ancient history.  Since that November two and a half years ago, we have already been through a contentious midterm election which saw Republicans make widespread congressional gains and are well on our way into the 2016 campaign cycle with a new group of fresh-faced conservative candidates vying for the White House.

However, Republicans would be foolish to disregard the outcome of 2012 or the reasons the GOP lost that year.  Unfortunately, if his Sunday interview was any indication, it would seem Mitt Romney already has.  Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Romney had the following response when asked what his biggest mistake was as the GOP’s previous presidential nominee:

In my case, I think the biggest mistake I made was not focusing very early on minority voters: Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans.

Our policies as a conservative group of people—our policies are designed to help people get out of poverty and to see rising incomes.  And the policies of the opposition party are to talk about that, but they don’t help people get out of poverty.  We have seen that.  They don’t create jobs.  Hillary Clinton said famously that business don’t create jobs.  How in the world can you be so out of touch as not to realize that if we want to have better jobs for people, we want small businesses to grow and thrive?  That’s what we’ll do.  Each of our candidates needs to communicate that to minority voters, and if we do, I think you’re going to see a lot minority voters say, ‘you know what? I hear the rhetoric, but I also see the record.  And I want to work for the people who are going to get me a better job and rising incomes.’

Nothing Romney says here is necessarily wrong in and of itself.  But by sticking to what is essentially the same message he used through the entirety of his 2012 campaign, he seems to betray a lack of understanding of the mistakes his campaign, and the GOP more broadly, made that that year.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

To begin with, Romney rightly emphasizes the importance of reaching out to minority voters, particularly Latinos.  However, he fails to recognize that it was not a lack of stress on “job-creating” policies which lost him Hispanic votes, but rather a mix of an out-of-touch economic message and a downright awful immigration message.

As American Principles in Action documented in 2013, Republican’s focus on “businesses” and “job-creators” to the detriment of “workers” and “wages” helped solidify the GOP’s image as the party of the wealthy, which in turn drove many voters, including Latinos, to the Democrats.  Romney does little to dispel that image here, casting Republicans as candidates who want to “create jobs” and help “small businesses.”  He also neglects to mention the damage done by his infamous “self-deportation” immigration comments and failure to support any realistic solution to address the plight of undocumented immigrants.

Furthermore, while Romney and Republicans focused most of their efforts in 2012 on emphasizing a flawed economic message, they essentially surrendered to Democrats on social issues, allowing the Left to define the terms of the debate.  This “truce strategy,” also detailed by APIA’s report, was supremely ineffective, as it allowed Democrats to paint GOP candidates as extremists while Republicans lost an opportunity to reach minority voters, many of whom are more amenable to a socially conservative message than the economically conservative one Romney is continuing to push here.

Although Romney admittedly had little time in this interview to answer a complex question, he gave no indication he had learned anything from his failed 2012 candidacy.  If GOP candidates hope to avoid a similar fate in 2016, they should probably steer clear of his advice.

Paul Dupont is a legislative assistant for American Principles in Action.