2012 Campaign: The Endgame
Obama, Romney in 34 days

Mitt Romney at a campaign stop in Virginia, October 5, 2012.



It’s a new year, but there are many of us still not quite over the 2012 presidential election — as mourners, as victors, as students of politics and history. In their e-book, The End of the Line, Politico campaign reporters Jonathan Martin and Glenn Thrush review the videotape on the last 34 days of the general election. They took some questions over e-mail about the book, and the election, from National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: “The television wasn’t even turned on in Romney’s room,” you report about election night. Why did he prefer to get updates from aides? Is it indicative of something more about Governor Romney?

Jonathan Martin and Glenn Thrush: Good question. It was one of those details that stuck out to us and we thought readers would find fascinating. As to the why: Romney, we’re told, preferred to spend the evening talking with his family (including some grandkids) and didn’t want the TV on to distract from their conversation. 


Lopez: You relate that President Obama savored his reelection victory: “His enemies had failed — all the birthers, the Tea Party obstructionists who had written his obituary after the 2010 midterms, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who vowed to make him a one-term president like Carter.” That seems remarkably, albeit perhaps understandably, personal. Is the president thin-skinned about criticism? How much of a handicap is that? 

Martin and Thrush: There’s no question that Obama has never been a person who felt entirely comfortable being told he was wrong by anyone, including his top staff and advisers. That said, he’s eventually conceded that fault internally to staffers and allies whom he perceives as working in his best interests. McConnell, the tea partiers, and other external critics who weren’t on his side were treated as enemies, and their failure to defeat him after four-plus years of attacking him made the victory sweeter than ever. Overall, he’s probably in the middle of the pack on presidential skin thickness.

Lopez: What was the “strategic ineptitude and . . . self-delusion” of the Romney campaign? 

MARTIN AND THRUSH: In a nutshell: Assuming until after Labor Day that the election was going to be a referendum on Obama’s handling of the economy and that his 2008 coalition wouldn’t show up at the polls again.

Lopez: What marked the “resilience and flashes of inspiration” of the Romney campaign?

Martin and Thrush: Bouncing back from the “47 percent” comment to deliver a strong performance at the first debate in Denver was impressive. And the personal testimonials (in the form of videos and speeches) at the GOP convention in Tampa were inspired. What’s confounding is why they didn’t keep up that effort after the convention.

Lopez: What’s the lesson of an Obama campaign May decision about ads? 

Martin and Thrush: This has been the subject of some post-e-book controversy. Nate Silver, among others, has argued that Obama saw no great movement in the polls following his decision to front-load his ad spending. That is not the view of Obama’s staff — and there is, at least, considerable evidence that late ads really don’t make as big a difference as previously assumed.

Lopez: Is a lesson of the Romney campaign: Be wary of “professionals”?

Martin and Thrush: Perhaps “be wary of single-minded campaigns when running against candidates who enjoy coalitions that don’t waver on the basis of bad news.”

Lopez: Why did the Romney campaign never counter the “not quite human” narrative of the Obama campaign? Do you believe they actually could have, compellingly? 

Martin and Thrush: The GOP convention showed the possibility of such a humanizing campaign. It was never fully countered because they wanted to make the campaign about Obama’s handling of the economy. What we heard over and over again was that Boston subscribed to the school of “if you’re explaining you’re losing.” So their imperative was to, again, make it about Obama.