I feel sad when I watch concession speeches.
I can't help it. No matter how much vitriol and contempt I might harbour for whoever is running against "my" candidate, there is something genuinely upsetting about watching them concede, putting on a brave face and restoring harmony in the face of defeat. I actually think it's kind of a sadistic tradition in elections, to force the loser to march out in front of their supporters and the world, mere minutes after the most devastating and emasculating (well, if you're a man) moment of their lives, and ask them to smile for the cameras. I felt that way about poor John McCain when he conceded, and for all of his shamefaced ambition and flip-flopping, I felt it for Romney too.
But something did occur to me as I watched Romney's workmanlike concession speech, and that was the thought that Romney was always going to lose this election.
And when I say that, I don't mean to infer that I had some kind of Nate-Silverish greater knowledge (I was as unsure as the pundits and my panicking friends as to which way it was going to go); I mean that in retrospect Romney's defeat was inevitable, and for one very important and somewhat unique reason.
The reason: He was bested by a cunning, superior and relentless opponent. And the opponent was Mitt Romney.
Romney undid himself by having the misfortune of running as a Republican candidate. If the conservatives of America ever want to get another candidate in the White House, from here on out they will need to undergo some serious identity changes, because their current dichotomy just doesn't work. The Achilles Heel of the Republican Party in 2012 is that it has two completely different identities, the extreme right-leaning identity that energizes the base and gets them out to vote on election day, and the moderate, centre-right identity candidates must dilute down to in order to get the votes of, well... anyone else. It's an identity crisis that sends the hapless Republican nominee onto the national stage with an untenable handicap.
Such is the entangled chaos of the party, inundated with Tea Partiers and extremist opinions, that Romney, arguably the least crazy of the candidates on the stage, and not as radical as many would have liked, had to make all kinds of promises and position changes in order to win the nomination.
And then over the course of the campaign, one by one, he reversed his positions, committing to his new ideologies and assurances with the fervour of a man who had been wanting to be President for his whole life. He would do and say anything to get that opportunity, even if it meant appealing to both the zealous denizens of his party and the liberal and centrist voters in the general election at different points in time.
So formidable was Mitt Romney the opponent, that he managed to achieve an incredible feat: Defeating his future self from the past. An odd retro-active murder/suicide, politically speaking...
Barack Obama was no longer as untouchable as he had been the first time around, his administration had made cock-ups and he was vulnerable to attacks. A Republican victory this November was a genuine possibility. But Obama had one thing on his side: Even if people didn't like what he was doing, they knew what his positions were and he mostly stuck to them. It was this consistency that carried the president over 270 electoral votes, leaving a muddled, self-sabotaging Romney to flounder behind him.
I wonder if Romney will reflect over the coming months, after he's had a few slices of humble pie (well, as humble as you can be and still be Mitt Romney), and ruminate about the obsessive desire for the job that made him so prone to flip and flop. In crafting as many Mitt Romney's as he felt the voters wanted, he essentially cancelled them all out. So good was he at the art of running for President, the nuance of spin, the power of performance, that he became his own worst enemy.
If the Republican Party is going to have a comeback in the years to come, they can't simply promote their candidate as one thing in the primaries, and then another thing entirely in the general. Instead, they'll have to do something far more difficult: attempt to change the party itself, because in these modern, increasingly liberal times, they have a profound disadvantage.
But whatever they do, it's too late for poor Mitt. All Obama had to do was stand back for the most part and let Romney take himself out. Like a hubristic Ouroboros serpent eating it's own tail, devouring the very moderate policies and stances that he would rush back to in the debates and attempt to salvage. And all in vain.
Mitt Romney was so good, Mitt Romney didn't stand a chance.