You don’t have to be a Buffalo Bills fan to know about “Monday Morning Quarterbacks.” That’s one of the many sports idioms that have come into common usage in American society. Basically, it refers to a person who criticizes a team or player after a performance, having had the benefit of hindsight. The Mitt Romney campaign has certainly had a multitude of Monday Morning Quarterbacks, many of whom were among the campaign’s biggest strategists and cheerleaders just before election day.
In sports, the Monday Morning Quarterbacks tend to have a much easier job because the situation is usually much clearer. If a football team lost a game on a last-minute interception, you can pretty much assume that if the team didn’t throw that interception it would have won. Now, you can argue that maybe the coach shouldn’t have called a pass play, or the quarterback threw a horrible pass, or the receiver shouldn’t have made a better effort to catch the ball, but there will probably be a clear consensus that the interception was a decisive play.
That’s one of the reasons we love our sports: there is usually (but not always) much less ambiguity than there is in the rest of our lives. Also, we really don’t have as much at stake. Most of the time presidential politics has more real-life consequences than the outcome of a Buffalo Bills game (Note that I wrote “most of the time”; if you paint your face red, white and blue before every home game you may beg to differ).
In politics, Monday Morning Quarterbacking becomes much more tricky, in large part because it requires that we analyze the thought processes that led people to vote for one candidate or another. Campaign 2012 is a particularly good case study because of how dramatically opinions changed following the outcome of the presidential race. In general, most observers thought that the election would be very close, and that one candidate could win the popular vote and the other the electoral vote. Many supporters of Romney thought that they had the best candidate, the Republicans were doing everything right, and that the GOP ticket would achieve a substantial victory. Those supporters, like the rest of us, have become Monday Morning Quarterbacks now, and are trying to explain how Romney lost so decisively. However, the reasons for the loss are not as simple in the world of politics as they are in the world of sports.
Google “Why Romney Lost” and you’ll find a litany of explanations: Romney didn’t have a clear middle-class job strategy; He failed to personally connect with voters; Hurricane Sandy gave Obama an 11th hour boost; Paul Ryan was a bad choice for vice president; Romney’s staff was poor; The Romney campaign failed to appeal to Hispanics; Romney alienated women voters; Romney’s TV commercials weren’t hard-hitting enough; People didn’t like Romney’s hair. Okay, I made up the last one, but you get the idea.
The problem is that much of that post-race analysis is coming from the same people who predicted that Romney would win — and win big. Pundits like Karl Rove, George Will and Dick Morris were predicting a Romney landslide. Steve Forbes, a wealthy magazine publisher who twice sought the Republican nomination for president, spoke for many when he wrote on Tuesday: “Mitt Romney will win big tonight. His popular vote margin will be between 3 – 5%. He will win the Electoral College I believe by a vote of 321 to 217, and with luck, even more.” I guess Romney was without luck —- really without luck.
In sports being a Monday Morning Quarterback is much easier. In politics, the rationale behind “what went wrong” (or “what went right”) is never quite as clear as it is in sports.
Just as I wouldn’t expect Chan Gailey or Ryan Fitzpatrick to give me the most insight into why the Bills lost a game they should have won, I’m certainly not going to put much trust into the analysis of the presidential election outcome offered by people like Steve Forbes and George Will. To understand why Romney lost, we should listen more to rationale of the people who voted for Obama, not to the excuses put forward by the losing team.
We all may be Monday Morning Quarterbacks, but some of us are certainly better at it than others.