Mitt Romney said Wednesday that his loss to President Obama was due in large part to his rival's strategy of giving "gifts" during his first term to three groups that were pivotal in the results of last week's election: African Americans, Latinos and young voters.
"The Obama campaign was following the old playbook of giving a lot of stuff to groups that they hoped they could get to vote for them and be motivated to go out to the polls, specifically the African American community, the Hispanic community and young people," Romney told hundreds of donors during a telephone town hall Wednesday. "In each case they were very generous in what they gave to those groups."
Romney's frank analysis echoed his secretly taped comments at a May fundraiser, where he told a small group of donors that 47% of the electorate was unlikely to vote for him because they paid no income taxes and were dependent on government. It followed his running mate Paul D. Ryan's assertion that Obama's win stemmed from turnout among "urban" voters.
Both were at odds with the election results — Obama won several key states without large cities or minority populations. And he did so in part by asserting that it was Romney who was planning to disburse gifts — by virtue of a budget plan that included tax breaks heavily skewed toward the wealthy.
The Los Angeles Times listened in to the Wednesday call, but Romney did not appear to be aware of the presence of reporters.
Young voters, Romney said, were motivated by the administration's plan for partial forgiveness of college loan interest, the extension of health coverage for students up to age 26 on their parents' insurance plans and free contraception coverage under Obama's healthcare plan, which he credited with ushering greater numbers of college-age women into Obama's coalition.
The extended insurance coverage, in particular, was "a big gift to young people," he said, noting that they turned out as a "larger share in this election even than in 2008."
Romney said the Obama healthcare plan's promise of coverage "in perpetuity" was behind the intensity of support for the president among African American voters making $25,000 to $35,000, as well as Hispanic voters:
"With regards to African American voters, 'Obamacare' was a huge plus — and was highly motivational to African American voters. You can imagine for somebody making $25—, or $30—, or $35,000 a year, being told you're now going to get free healthcare — particularly if you don't have it, getting free healthcare worth, what, $10,000 a family, in perpetuity, I mean this is huge. Likewise with Hispanic voters, free healthcare was a big plus."
Pivoting to immigration, Romney said the Obama campaign's efforts to paint him as "anti-immigrant" had been effective and that the administration's promise to offer what he called "amnesty" to the children of undocumented immigrants had helped turn out Latino voters in record numbers.
"With regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for the children of illegals — the so-called Dream Act kids — was a huge plus for that voting group," he said. "On the negative side, of course, they always characterized us as being anti-immigrant, being tough on illegal immigration, and so forth, so that was very effective with that group."
"The president's campaign," he said, "focused on giving targeted groups a big gift — so he made a big effort on small things. Those small things, by the way, add up to trillions of dollars."
Romney's analysis that voters had essentially been persuaded by financial benefit to vote for Obama pushed aside criticisms of his own campaign. Analysts who have studied the vote, for example, have given credit to Obama's massive get-out-the-vote effort, which dwarfed its Republican counterpart.
Polls and interviews also suggested that, in part, those voters were driven to Obama by the Republican's conservative positions on issues like immigration, abortion and the role of government. Among African American voters, pride in the nation's first black president was also a key element.
The Romney call came on the same day that Obama told questioners at a news conference in Washington that he hoped to talk to his Republican opponent before the end of the year about ways they could work together.
"There are certain aspects of Gov. Romney's record and his ideas that I think could be very helpful," Obama said, citing as possibilities eliminating government waste and increasing efficiency, a "skill set" he said Romney had as a result of his tenure leading the Salt Lake City Olympic Games.
The Wednesday donor call was organized by Romney's finance team and included a final rundown of fundraising efforts as well as an analysis by Romney pollster Neil Newhouse, who has been criticized by some Republicans for misleading the candidate about his chances.
"I am very sorry that we didn't win," Romney told the donors. "I know that you expected to win. We expected to win.... It was very close, but close doesn't count in this business."
Romney reflected on the trajectory that led to last week's loss, acknowledging that he had "gotten beat up pretty bad" by Obama and his allies after the primaries, but noting his rebound after the first fall debate.
The Republican nominee avoided any recriminations about his team or a second-guessing of their efforts, calling the organization "a very solid team that got along."
Romney added that there was "no drama in the campaign — not that everybody was perfect; everybody has flat sides, but we learned how to accommodate each other's strengths and weaknesses, to build on the strengths."
"The organization did not get in the way," he said.
In words of thanks for his donors, Romney said he never expected the campaign to raise more than $500 million. The Romney team ultimately raised more than $900 million, according to finance chairman Spencer Zwick, who reviewed some of the final tallies during the call.
Romney said he and his team were discussing how to keep the campaign's donor group connected — perhaps with annual meetings or a monthly newsletter — "so we can stay informed and have influence on the direction of the party, and perhaps the selection of a future nominee."
"Which, by the way," he added with a chuckle, "will not be me."
The former Massachusetts governor said he was trying to turn his thoughts to what he would do going forward.
"But frankly," he said, "we're still so troubled by the past, it's hard to put together our plans for the future."