I overheard a conservative classmate today cursing out the Romney campaign today, not for running a poor campaign (though he did lament that), but for lying about their internal numbers. Based on their assurances that all the pollsters were wrong, he bet on a Romney victory (and, needless to say, lost). But more interesting to me, is implicit in this charge is the assumption that the campaign itself knew how poor his margins were in the first place.
There is some credible evidence that the Romney campaign was not entirely honest with their attempt to spin an imminent Republican victory. As Jon Chait pointed out at the time, the Republican nominee’s rhetoric of confidence did not actually match with his campaign’s actions, suggestive of a last ditch attempt to vault into the lead through self-fulfilling prophesy. Likewise, Nate Silver argued that the shift to Pennsylvania towards the final weeks was a defensible long-shot based on the resiliency of the Ohio polls, especially given Romney’s abundant money advantage.
But other data points are less easily explained. The Republican candidates’ time, a resource nowhere near as bottomless as their bank account, was spent disproportionately in these long-shot states as well. Further, the Romney camp went far beyond the typical cautious optimism of most political campaigns and certainly beyond what the ultimately victorious Obama reelection effort did to convey their confidence. Surrogates proclaimed certainty in not just a win, but a big one, even as the polling soured more pronouncedly. While both campaigns pushed back against disfavorable polls (something Romney did more frequently just because the polls suggested he was losing), days before the election, Romney’s own pollster discussed the internal polling with the press to argue that Romney was winning (note: not gaining or within the margin of error or any such fudging but winning) in key swing states. The candidate himself told reporters he only wrote a victory speech, while Obama mentioned he had both prepared. Most telling, though, was the campaign’s reaction on election night, when the networks called Ohio and thus the presidency for Obama. The Romney camp publicly disputed the call (despite the voting being clearly not even close) and refused to concede for over an hour after being declared the loser (and well after it became clear the votes just weren’t there).
All of these bits of information point to a campaign that appears to have believed their own spin on the election, that the real numbers pointed to a clear Romney victory. If true, it is a pretty damning critique of the Republican bubble.