What went wrong?

Intellectual honesty forces me to reflect on the question why my prediction - Romney wins the presidential election - did not become reality. Instead of an "on the one hand, on the other hand" type of story on election night I took the risk of coming up with a prediction. But I was wrong, and I adMitt it.

I favoured Romney. The wish might have been the father to the thought. Siding with Romney however was democratic and legitimate. In 2008 I favoured Obama, but I find his economical policy mediocre. He tries to turn the US into a European welfare state, while those welfare states are sinking away into a permanent crisis. Europe does not gain anything from an America repeating European mistakes. Romney is a moderate Republican and an experienced businessman and governor. More than 58 million Americans agreed.

Sometimes I got the impression that in Europe support for Romney was considered to be indecent and criminal. Thomas von der Dunk, in the Volkskrant (11.11.2012) called me 'The Dutch Donald Trump' because the property magnate supported Romney. I lack both the haircut and wealth of Trump necessary in order to claim that title. In Belgium it was even worse. On election night I appeared on the Flemish television and turned out to be the only politician in favour of Romney. There was none among the guests; neither in the studio. Ah yes, a journalist made some phone calls and came up with someone: Filip Dewinter of the Vlaams Belang. This gave me the impression of having ended up at a Neurenberg Tribunal. The Belgian support for Obama was 99.9 per cent. The 'pro-Romney one man lobby' was a lonely road through a sea of Obama groupies.

To make Romney's candidature plausible, I had to draw up an electoral route which would allow him to become president. There were not many options. I was a guest at the Republican convention in Tampa and talked to strategists. They were anticipating a lower turnout in 2012 compared to 2008. This would result in less enthusiasm for Obama and more for Romney, especially amongst white voters. Romney would win the same states John McCain, Republican candidate in 2008, won, and on top of that states such as Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio and a few others to get to those 270 electors. Especially after the debate between Romney and Obama on the 3rd of October in Denver, the self-confidence of the Republicans rose. They offered me a nice seat at Romney's inauguration on the 20th of January 2013! But election night on November 7th, also my birthday, ended in a hangover. All Flemish media contacted me, jokingly asking if the birthday cake still tasted well, without the cherry on top.

The surprising thing about the election result was not so much that Obama received 9 million votes less than in 2008, but that Romney received 2 million less than McCain in 2008. Because of this Romney missed his boost and won two states more than McCain: North Carolina and Indiana. In Florida he was only 74,000 votes short on a total of 8.4 million voters, while Obama won Virginia with 50.8 per cent and Ohio with 50.1 per cent. His mobilisation of the swing states was better than that of Romney. In absolute numbers of votes the margins were smaller than the result of the Electoral College (332 versus 209) suggests. If 300,000 votes spread over five states had gone the other way, Romney would have won.

Because of the lower turnout of white voters, the low support Romney had under Latino voters was not compensated. George Bush received over 40 per cent of the Latino vote in 2004. McCain dropped in 2008 to 31 per cent and Romney got stuck on 27 per cent. Bush managed to win in New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. Romney lost all three of those states. Republicans have to abandon their anti-immigrant position. Romney fell in a trap when during the primaries his rival Rick Perry, governor of Texas, fulminated against immigration. Romney surpassed him by calling on all illegal immigrants to 'self-deport'. With this he scared away Latino voters.

Republicans have to draw lessons from this defeat. Romney was pictured- both by his Republican rivals in the preliminaries as well as afterwards by Obama - as superrich, a tax evader and the destroyer of jobs. Romney responded too late, causing problems for his image even in the eyes of his supporters. His profile faded: too much big business for the ordinary man, too moderate for the Tea Party. Republicans should become friendlier toward Latinos. All eyes are now on Marco Rubio, a senator from Florida. Last weekend he already explored Iowa, the starting state for the next presidential election. Rubio is the winner in Romney's defeat.

Those American analysts who where wrong all - apart from Karl Rove - repent: the one grovels, the other goes on a diet. My secretary supported Obama, celebrated his victory on Times Square and gifted me with the front page of the New York Times: Obama's Night. Your columnist has, as penance, framed the page and put it over his desk. Obama won but a critical approach continues to be necessary. Now more than ever.