1. Ignoramuses -- It's not easy figuring out what to do with your idiot uncle at a family gathering. The rape-has-its-upside crowd alienated even conservatives. Mourdock/Akins et. al. were a real opportunity for Romney to show the country that he knew the difference between hard-edged politics and insulting lunacy. He could have disowned them, loudly and repeatedly, but he didn't. A leadership opportunity and a chance to move away from all the crazy, nasty stuff was squandered.
2. Ignoramuses II -- Bachman-Cain-Perry-Santorum et. al. were able to tie Romney down, force him away from his moderate conservative record and inclinations, and repeatedly define himself as just another "severe conservative". This wasn't just knuckling under to bad ideas, it was embracing truly extremist views. It turns out Romney needed Huntsman to stay in the Republican primary race and argue the crazies back to the middle. And Clint Eastwood didn't help.
3. Bad Ideas -- Romney was specific enough, did have a plan, and did talk about it. The problem was that the fundamental ideas were bad ones, and eventually voters caught on. Economic austerity, budget cuts, tax breaks for the wealthy, government as sex cop, arrest immigrants, unleash the oil companies, and muscle up the military and foreign policy are not a winning program because voters decided they don't work. Obama was much less specific, leaving Romney to self-deport himself right out of the White House.
4. Echo Chamber -- The Anti-Social Media, headed by Hannity and Limbaugh, were so present in the national consciousness, so clear and insistent that we all sort of conceded they had a grip on reality. They didn't, but Romney stuck with them. He boycotted all the Sunday morning news shows except Fox until June. His campaign seemed tuned into the shifting Hannity/Limbaugh attacks on Obama, liberals, gas prices, Susan Rice, Benghazi, Nate Silver and pollsters. There wasn't anyone inside the tent reminding Mitt that in politics, just like in banking, you need cold, hard information, not cheerleaders.
5. Flip-Flops -- There's a great tradition of running to the edges in a primary and re-centering for the general, both Democrats and Republicans. Romney couldn't take advantage, because he had already moved away from his historic positions once ( health care-abortion-guncontrol-environment) and twice wouldn't sell to either the base or the unpersuaded middle. It's not the flip that kills you, it's the flop.
6. Flubs -- Plenty of these, indeed: The 47 percent rant, the dog on the car, the $10,000 bet, the London/Israel trip, the Libya statement etc. They were a running distraction and kept the campaign off-balance. Don't make too much of all this, however. Obama's gi-gundo screw-up of the first debate single-handedly balanced out all of Romney's flubs.
7. Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll -- In states across the nation the generational conflict about marijuana, birth control, and gay marriage riled up young voters who were trending Obama. And Romney/Ryans' Kid Rock and Ted Nugent tandem was blown away by Obama's Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry, Rage Against the Machine and, of course, The Boss.
8. Sluts -- There isn't a gender gap: There's a marriage gap. Romney won with married women, he got his clock cleaned with single women, with less than one-third of their vote. Give Rush Limbaugh and Sandra Fluke some credit here. When the boys moved from anti-abortion to anti-contraception and defined sexual activity by a single woman as a mark of slutishness, the ladies listened, and Sandra Fluke became a poster child for women living lives in the 21st Century.
9. Vileness and Lies -- When the right stuck with Obama as the target of character attack, no one blinked. We allow for Swift-Boating of presidential candidates, from Jefferson and John Adams to Clinton, Kerry and Barack. But when the tactic was extended to Sandra Fluke, "retards" (see Coulter, Ann), muslim interns, Van Jones, Huma Abedin (Hillary's staffer, see Bachman, Michele and Gohmert, Louis) and others the public took unfavorable notice. The same happened on the patently untrue accusations by Romney on auto jobs moving to China, welfare work requirements and a putative "apology tour." All this stuff bounced back on him.
10. Occupy Wall Street -- One short year ago the dominant narrative in American politics was austerity, tax cuts, bad-big government and the Tea Party. There wasn't an alternate explanation out there. OWS changed that in a matter of weeks. Right or wrong, the OWS explanation that it was the rich versus the rest of us, the 99 percent against the 1 percent, became an acceptable way of understanding our situation. Obama was shrewd enough to ride the wave, even to this week's insistence on a high-end tax increase. It's an old story in America, ideas battle in the streets and establishment pols pick up the winning side.