I don't think any of the punditocracy really understands what's happened to the Republican party, and I don't think they've really got an understanding of the fatal flaws of the Romney campaign.
The problem with the former is, quite simply, the Teabaggers.
First of all, right out of the gate, no, I won't call them "the Tea Party." The reason is simple: Despite what they now try to tell us, "Teabaggers" isn't a crude pejorative applied to them by us nasty liberals. It's the term with which they first labeled themselves, and "Teabagging" their term for their political activities, selected, embraced, and publicized by them, none of them knowing it was already a term of crude sexual slang for an act with which they'd be loath to be identified. Going off half-cocked, without research or due diligence hung a name around their necks that is anathema to them, and that carelessness, that mental laziness, is too entirely emblematic of their movement as a whole for me to overlook. Teabaggers they began as, Teabaggers they coined themselves and, as long as they and I both exist, Teabaggers, in my discussions, they will remain.
You'll hear a lot from Teabaggers that they're a spontaneous grass-roots movement, individuals fed up with government over-reach who have stood up to be counted. It's a lie. They were a political-theater group created by big insurance companies to militate in any way possible against reforming our country's health-care system, which has been 28th in the world in terms of patient care, but a license to print money for insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Their success in gathering publicity made them look to the powers behind the Republican party like the solution to their new problem.
Their new problem was simply this: Lots more democrats were voting, and lots of independents, disgusted by the incredibly destructive behavior of the GOP-controlled government that had led to economic catastrophe in 2008, were voting, and voting for Democrats. The Republican party has long prided itself on its "Big Tent" philosophy, gathering together diverse strands of conservatives with different primary concerns -- abortion, social issues, international relations, economic, fiscal and monetary policies -- casting about for new warm bodies to bring into their Big Tent to try to get ahead again in their numbers race with Democrats, reached out to the vast and active pool of toxic right-wing crazies.
These, make no mistake, are the spiritual brothers of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. They believe that the United States Government is an occupying power, taking rightful supremacy away from "real" Americans, and by "real," they mean "white and Christian." They aren't a real natural fit with true patriots like John McCain, or even George W. Bush, who, for all his mental sloth, incurious attitude and simplistic policies, at least truly believed and believes in America. But, given a ballot with a "D" and an "R" on it, they're going to put their Check Mark beside the "R," so, in the far-too-limited vision of the Republican party leaders, these simple-minded, single-minded crazies seemed like perfectly acceptable foot-soldiers. Make them welcome in the party, encourage them to take part, and they will add to the votes for Republican candidates.
The problem, of course, with courting the racists, the anarchists, the "low information" libertarians (that is, those who don't understand that their taxes pay for roads and schools and police and fire departments, weather reporting and safe food and water and a communications infrastructure and so infinitely much more) -- in short, in courting the crazies -- is that they're crazy, and crazy can't be controlled. They swept in and overwhelmed much of the Republican party (Much like, in the early 1980s, followers of the Baghwan Shree Rajneesh gathered in the town of Antelope, Oregon, and took over the government, briefly renaming the town Rajneeshpuran) and created a situation where the only way to be nominated by the GOP to run for any position was to either be, or pretend to be, as crazy as they were. This can win nominations from a party dominated by lunatics, but it can't win elections.
The 2010 bellweathers should have been a warning to the GOP: Christine O'Donnell, who seriously thinks there are secret US Government labs where there are mice with fully-functioning human brains, and Sharon Angle, who was outraged that the press would ask her questions she hadn't fed them in advance, and suggested that a duly-elected congress that didn't toe a line drawn by a small-but-vocal minority would face "Second Amendment remedies" both fell in their elections. But enough Republicans won to blind the party to their peril -- and enough to alert the Democratic voters of the same.
Come 2012, the Republican party doubled down on crazy, and the GOP presidential primary campaign was well-described as a "Clown Car." It's telling that Mitt Romney, who was a transparent liar from the very beginning of his campaign -- remember that his first campaign commercial was a flat-out lie that was condemned far and wide (the "If we talk about the economy, we will lose" ad, in which the Romney campaign presented that snippet of a 2008 Obama campaign speech, while not admitting it was a direct, attributed quote by Barack Obama of a McCain advisor, talking about the Republican record of economic catastrophe) -- looked like Abraham Lincoln next to the bagful of crazy that was the rest of the field candidates.
Sadly -- and, even as a gleeful, gloating Democrat, I mean that honestly -- the Republican party seems not to have learned that lesson. So deep are they in their bubble, listening only to the voices in their own heads (How else do we explain a party that savagely attacked statisticians like Nate Silver, whose predictions, available for weeks and months before the election, proved out with uncanny accuracy, and then reels in shell-shock when its candidate loses, exactly as predicted?) that there seems to be a strong desire to double down again. "Romney wasn't conservative _enough_," we keep hearing. "He's a Massachusetts moderate who doesn't represent true conservative values."
There are glimmers of hope. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal excoriated the GOP for being "The party of dumbed-down conservatism" (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1112/83743.html.) The question remains: Will the party listen to him? Will they learn the real lesson of November, 2012? For their sake, I hope they do, but, as a liberal Democrat, it's no skin off my nose if they don't. They'll just keep losing, and that's okay with me.
The above alludes to the second question, the important factor in Romney's stinging defeat that the press seems determined to ignore.
Willard Mitt Romney is an inveterate, unabashed, transparent liar. It was proved again and again from the beginning of his campaign ("If we talk about the economy...") to the end ("Chrysler is going to move its Jeep manufacturing to China.") One of his chief campaign advisers arrogantly told reporters during the Republican National Convention, “We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” Somewhere along the way, the Party, having decided that a handsome man in a nice suit with a decent haircut, a manikin of presidential appearance, was preferable to the gesticulating lunatic asylum the Teabaggers had left them as the only alternative, whistled past the graveyard of its own integrity, and the knowledge that the most fundamental "Family Value" that even the most conservative American believes in is honesty.
Everybody knew that Romney was a liar. Everybody knew that his only core conviction was that he should be president, simply because it was the only "promotion" yet available to him in a long career of upward career mobility to the very top of the economic ladder. From week to week, from day to day, he would contradict himself, tailoring his statements to be red meat to whichever crowd he would speak to on any given day, as if unaware that statements made in any given place would be reported to the nation as a whole.
This is not about "flip-flopping," that most dishonest of political criticisms, which makes a virtue of inflexibility and a liability of the ability to learn, or to react in nuanced ways to complex situations. This is about transparent dishonesty, bare-faced dishonesty, about a candidate whose own campaign admitted again and again, from its arrogant dismissal when called out for that first, fraudulent, "If we talk about the economy" ad, through the infamous "Etch-a-Sketch" comment during the primaries, through the "...dictated by fact-checkers" statement to end where they began, repeating out-and-out lies about Chrysler offshoring Jeep production, and a party that somehow deluded itself that Americans wouldn't notice or wouldn't care, that lying would only be unpopular with voters if Democrats did it.
Why do all of those solemn discussions of "What went wrong for Romney?" ignore the simple fact that he both lied to us repeatedly, and did so so obviously and transparently that it amounted to calling every American voter stupid? Surely that was an important factor in his defeat!