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Explaining Mitt Romney's loss: Messaging or messenger?

Published: Monday, March 4 2013 4:25 p.m. MST

This Nov. 7, 2012 file photo shows Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney waving to supporters at an election night rally in Boston.

Stephan Savoia, Associated Press

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Over the weekend, Mitt Romney and his wife gave an interview to Chris Wallace at Fox, in which the two expressed regret over the election and tried to offer their explanations for what happened.

Meanwhile, a debate over what comes next for conservatives continued, with American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks taking to the op-ed pages to argue that conservatives need to make the moral and philanthropic case for free enterprise.

Inevitably, the conversation in Romney's interview turned to his infamous 47 percent comment, where he told supporters that nearly half of American voters were already locked into the Democratic party thanks to the largesse offered them by the left.

While walking back the comment itself, Romney reinforced the underlying claim.

"When Wallace asked him to critique his campaign," the Washington Post reported, "Romney said his failure to sway Hispanic and black voters was 'a real weakness.' He said minorities voted Democratic in part because 'Obamacare was very attractive, particularly to those without health insurance, and they came out in large numbers to vote.'”

Josh Kraushaar at National Journal was not impressed with Romney's interview, arguing that he continued to demonstrate the flaws that sunk his candidacy.

"And when talking about the nation's changing demography," Kraushaar wrote, "he referred to white voters as the 'majority population' and Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and African-Americans as 'minority populations.' It demonstrated his tone deafness —that, even when accurately diagnosing his campaign’s problems, he lacked the verbal fluency to relate to them."

The battle over messaging was picked up by Arthur Brooks, who argued in Monday's Wall Street Journal that Republicans continue to misplay a strong hand on the moral issues surrounding "care for the vulnerable."

Brooks' message, also laid out in his book "The Road to Freedom," is that conservatives lose arguments because they surrender the moral high ground on poverty, even though their policies do more to help people.

"Conservatives are fighting a losing battle of moral arithmetic," Brooks wrote. "They hand an argument with virtually 100 percent public support — care for the vulnerable — to progressives, and focus instead on materialistic concerns and minority moral viewpoints."

"The irony is maddening," he continued. "America's poor people have been saddled with generations of disastrous progressive policy results, from welfare-induced dependency to failing schools that continue to trap millions of children."

"That achievement is not the result of philanthropy or foreign aid," Brooks also argued. "It occurred because billions of souls have been able to pull themselves out of poverty thanks to global free trade, property rights, the rule of law and entrepreneurship."

This argument got a hostile reception at Bloomberg.com, where Josh Barro argued that Brooks' claims about how poverty has been reduced abroad have not meaning here.

"There is no lesson here for domestic policy," Barro argues, arguing that both parties favor "property rights, the rule of law and entrepreneurship," and the Democrats have also supported free trade.

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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