Why did Mitt Romney lose the election? If you ask him--as some donors did--it's because President Obama gave "extraordinary financial gifts" to Hispanic voters and other demographic blocs in his voting coalition.
This week Romney explained his election loss to high-level donors on at least two private conference calls, and ABC News obtained a recording of one of them Wednesday. Among the many news tidbits are Romney's repeated comments about "gifts" to demographic groups by Obama (particularly Hispanics), a call from Bill Clinton, Romney's frustration with the GOP primary system, his pollster's case that Hurricane Sandy played a big role, and the campaign's almost awestruck acknowledgement of the minority turnout that did them in.
Below are some highlights from the call, which also featured Campaign Manager Matt Rhoades, Finance Chairman Spencer Zwick, and campaign pollster Neil Newhouse, as they and the former candidate answered questions from donors about what went wrong:
Listen to portions of the call as aired on ABC's World News Nov. 14th.
Some conservatives have distanced themselves from Romney's explanation. Read about that HERE.
Romney credited his team with a "no drama" campaign. Romney said there was " really no drama in the campaign. There were no battles, political fights going on, people arguing that other people should be demoted or fired, or whatever, it was a campaign that, we weren't perfect by any means, but people worked around the flat sides of one another and worked as a unified team."
Romney called his campaign strategy "highly effective." Romney: "I think our strategy was highly effective, you know I don't go back and say, 'Oh, I wish we'd have done this differently or done that differently.'"
Romney: "What the president's campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote, and that strategy worked."
Romney's campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, listed a few specifics: "Whether it was free contraceptives for 18 to 29 year-old women, DREAM Act waivers, student loan interest rate cuts for college students, and other initiatives geared toward energizing their coalition. They succeeded."
Romney: " It's a proven political strategy, which is give a bunch of money to a group and, guess what, they'll vote for you. ... Immigration we can solve, but the giving away free stuff is a hard thing to compete with."
Listen to edited audio of Romney's call HERE.
Romney on the "gifts" to Hispanic voters: "What the president did is he gave them two things. One, he gave them a big gift on immigration with the DREAM Act amnesty program, which was obviously very very popular with Hispanic voters, and then number two was Obamacare ... For any lower-income Hispanic family, Obamacare was massive, I mean for--the average income for a household in America is fifty thousand dollars a year, that's the median, fifty K per year. For the Hispanic household, my guess is it's lower than that, maybe it's forty thousand a year. For a home earning let's say thirty thousand a year, free health care, which is worth about ten thousand dollars a year, I mean is massive, it's huge. So this--he did two very popular things for the Hispanic community."
"In order to get Hispanic voters, what the president did we would be very reluctant to do, which is one, provide amnesty for those that are here illegally, and number two put in place Obamacare which basically is ten thousand dollars a family. It's a proven political strategy, which is give a bunch of money to a group and, guess what, they'll vote for you.
"What I would do if I were a Democrat running four years from now, I'd say, you know what, dental care will be included in Obamcare...and Republicans will say, no, that's going to cost a trillion dollars, and the Democrats will say, that's fine, you know, we'll pay it. So this is a challenge we've got on how to deal with this is a real issue.
"Immigration we can solve, but the giving away free stuff is a hard thing to compete with."
Romney acknowledged his policies weren't so popular with Hispanic voters: "And what'd we do with the Hispanic community was not as popular, obviously, we talked tough on immigration and said we weren't going to give amnesty, and of course we were going to repeal Obamacare, so on the issues we were not good, and then of course they followed on not just giving the Hispanic community things they wanted, but a very good turnout effort. Going forward, clearly we have to have an immigration plan, this idea of just kicking this down the field until every four years the Democrats use it as an issue to hit us over the head with is nuts, we have to have an immigration plan and program, and I certainly hope that our leaders in Washington are willing to put that forward."
Romney's pollster said higher minority turnout, and lower white turnout, was what did the ticket in. Pollster Neil Newhouse told donors on the call: "The way we figured it out is 900,000 fewer white men voted in our target states than in 2008, and 607,000 more African-Americans and Hispanics voted."
Listen to more of Romney's donor call HERE.
Romney says president Bill Clinton called him after the election and said he might have won if not for Hurricane Sandy. Romney: "I spoke with president Clinton the day before yesterday, he called and spent thirty minutes chatting with me. He said a week out I thought you were going to win. And he said, but the hurricane happened, and it gave the president a chance to be presidential, and to look bipartisan, and you know he got a little more momentum, and of course he also said that when he was watching Ann speak at the Republican convention, he decided he was tempted to join the Republican Party. So he may have just been effusive with generous comments as he chatted. He was very complimentary, by the way, of how well we did with middle-class voters, and he said they were surprised by how strong we were in Ohio and in other states with middle-class voters, they did exceptionally well with minorities, but white, middle-class voters, we really cleaned up with and that caught them by surprise."
Listen to Romney discuss his conversation with Bill Clinton HERE.
Romney wants his team of donors to influence whom the Republican Party picks as its next nominee. Romney: "I think the question that I have and I'm sure each of you has as you look at the future, is just what we should do with our team to try and influence the direction of our party and to influence the selection of the next nominee, and to help influence the success of that nominee in becoming the next president, and I don't have a particular plan in mind for that at this stage, but I do want to note that I think I'd like us to get together sometime after the beginning of next year with this group."
Newhouse and Rhoades both surmised that the Obama campaign thought "small." Rhoades: "President Obama and his campaign team succeeded, and Neil will highlight this with more data, in changing the electorate, and you know some on our team have said they went small in a very big way, and it worked, and you know we congratulate them."
Newhouse cited numbers indicating that minority turnout cost Romney Ohio and Florida. Newhouse: "In Ohio, we won independents overwhelmingly, but there was a four percent increase in the number of African-American voters who voted in that election, so that at the end of the day in the state, there were 178,000 more African-Americans voted in 2012 than in 2008 in Ohio, and we lost the state by 103,000 ... In Florida, we failed to really bring it home among Hispanic voters. We got--there was an increase in the number of Hispanics who voted in the state from 13 to 17 percent of the electorate, so that went up four points ... our numbers indicate that 263,000 more Hispanics voted [in Florida] in 2012 than '08, and we lost the state by 73,00 votes."
In contrast, Newhouse almost lamented that Romney had won independents and whites, without winning the election: "We thought we were doing extraordinarily well among white middle-class voters, and it was a very tight election, but the success the Obama campaign had in changing the composition of the electorate is what they owe their victory to ... Mitt won independent voters by five points. He won independents in this race, and in Ohio he won independent voters by 19 points--some incredible numbers here. I mean, as much, and you look at the issues that we did well with, among voters who said the economy was the most important problem facing the country, Mitt beat Obama among those voters by 51 47. ... We won white voters by 20 points, which was--a Republican candidate hasn't won white voters by 20 points I think since the 1980s--so it's really won by a historic margin. We won white women by somewhat less than that."
Romney: "We had 20 Republican debates, that was absolutely nuts, it opened us up to gaffes and to material that could be used against us in the general, and we were fighting these debates for a year, and the incumbent president just sat back and laughed." Romney said he wants his group of donors to stay together to pressure Republicans to abbreviate their primary process.
Romney criticized networks that hosted some of the GOP primary debates. His suggestion for the debates next time: "agree that we're gonna do, you know, I don't know, eight debates, and we're gonna, we're gonna do one a month, and we're gonna pick stations that are reasonable, it's not all gonna be done by CNN and NBC, alright, I mean we're gonna try and guide this process so that it's designed to showcase the best of our people as opposed to showcasing liberals beating the heck out of us."
Campaign manager Matt Rhoades said the campaign quietly canceled a handful of debates. Rhoades told donors on the call: "We'd often get questions about, how come there's so many debates, why can't you say no? When you're going through a primary process, I think there were 24 total debates during the primary, we probably killed at least 15, 12 to 15 quietly behind the scenes, but you get caught up."
Romney had a big transition team already working on the early stages of his administration, the former candidate told donors: "I wish you also had the chance to see the transition team. A large group of folks were working on everything from pieces of legislation to file to the first budget to executive orders, and it's disappointing we won't be able to file those executive orders, but I guess that happens, we're still having a hard time, just contemplating what could have been versus what is, and it just doesn't seem real, we're still in the stage of denial at my house. We still think the campaign is going on."
Rhoades, sounding slightly awed by the Obama turnout operation, recommended to donors that they pressure the Republican National Committee to step up its data and targeting operation or create a 527 group to run GOP data and targeting operations from outside the party.
Rhoades: "I think it's absolutely critical that we as a party, and folks on this call, some of you, if you're able to do it, make this an emphasis. Whether it's Speaker Boehner, whether it's the chairman of the RNC, whether it's future leaders of the party, Congressman Ryan, Marco Rubio--whomever--to take a close look at how to do this, because like Neil said we don't know for certain how they turned out all of their voters, but we know for certain that they had a more sophisticated data collection that they had than we had when we became the nominee. We didn't inherit anything close to that. And this is probably why they were able to--you know they had all these people out in the states, and we always wondered what they were doing. We think what they were doing was they would have people assigned to do dorm-room floors, where they would make sure that everybody that was registered to vote either voted absentee or early voting, they had people that worked in urban areas, to make sure that folks would vote absentee or get out the vote on election day, and it was a real you know personal touch that they had on their voter contact. That's what we believe they were doing, I think we'll find out more in the coming days, but as far as something that this group can do for the future of the party, like the Guv said at the outset of the call, I think this is certainly something that you guys should look at."