Mitt Romney's bid for the US presidency failed because voters saw through him – as a candidate the man was a political chameleon.
On his second bid for the White House, Romney held nothing back – last week, a flip-flop; yesterday, a backtrack; today, a retreat; and tomorrow, a sidestep of what he had said last week or last year.
A sharply worded editorial in The Washington Post on Sunday argued that the only consistency in the Romney campaign had been the candidate's contempt for the electorate. But that he went so close to becoming president reveals more than we might have expected about the people and that politics of the global superpower.
When one of his competitors for the Republican nomination had damned him as "a Massachusetts moderate", Romney had defended himself as "severely conservative". But across the life of this campaign he left a trail of confusion as to who was the real Romney – the arch-conservative trying to win over the party base and the Tea Party crazies during the Republican primaries or the laid-back Massachusetts moderate who reached out to independent voters in the closing weeks.
Had Romney won the election, Americans seriously would be waking up tomorrow not having a clue about what to expect from their new leader.
Which of his contradictor tax reform positions might he hold to? Was he with immigrants, against them or really for them – all positions he had taken in the campaign? Where did he stand in the world – Kissingerian foreign policy realist or McCain-like hawk, as that Washington Post editorial demanded?
Health – indeed he was the author of the blueprint for Obamacare, but he would repeal it and then there was some of it he would keep – which? Abortion – yes, no and maybe ...
Just as remarkable was Romney's refusal to detail his policies, beyond repeating that he had a five-point plan. Seasoned tax-policy experts said the maths in his tax policy were simply impossible – but the candidate offered no explanation; he would end tax deductions, but he refused to say which; he had different ideas to Obama on young undocumented migrants — but he would not reveal them.
Two telling moments in the campaign went to the courage of Romney's convictions.
The first, at the end of the primaries process, was when one of his staffers invoked the idea of an Etch A Sketch, on which a child does a drawing, shakes the thing up and the drawing disappears. After all the conservative nonsense to win the nomination, Romney would shake his Etch A Sketch policies to go after more moderate voters.
The second was a response to Romney's derisory quip that "even Jimmy Carter would have done it", when asked if he would made the same decision as Obama to authorise the mission that went after Osama bin Laden. In a newspaper op-ed, a former Carter aide reviewed the Romney policy record, before observing that Romney had never taken a courageous position on anything.
Romney might have challenged the diehard social conservatives who dominate his party.
But he wimped it when the conservative radio loudmouth Rush Limbaugh called a young woman defending her right to contraception a slut; in the row over a Republican congressman's claim that pregnancy could not happen in a case of "legitimate" rape; and when one of his party rivals for the nomination declared that the iconic John F. Kennedy speech on the separation between church and state had made him sick.
"Even some of Romney's own campaign advisers confess they don't really know who he is," the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes. "Is he the pragmatist who would curb Grover Norquist, John Bolton and Dan Senor — or the severe conservative who would let them run wild?" But quite apart from his policy gyrations, Republican post mortems will go to questions of the candidate's personality, his social awkwardness, his disdain for the media and his campaign strategy in what, for the GOP, was an election that was impossible to lose.
The candidate seemingly had a human story to reveal of himself in his religious life — but he was too awkward in telling it. He needed to put Americans at ease about his vast wealth, but whenever he did his foot usually ended up in his mouth.
He and his strategists knew full well that the Obama campaign would come after his record at Bain Capital — but even before Obama went after him, his Republican competitors for the nomination had smeared him real good as a vulture capitalist.
There is a perception that Romney surged in the closing weeks of the campaign, riding a strong showing in the first of three debates with Obama before cresting a wave of rank-and-file Republican energy that, depending on whose finger was on the pulse, did or did not falter before Hurricane Sandy pushed the campaign to the back of the media's and the nation's consciousness.
But blaming a hurricane for defeat does not cut it.
Often derided as a nation of idiots, American voters might have redeemed themselves in the eyes of the world – and it's safe to assume that a good number of those who ticked the box for Obama were among the 47 per cent who Romney wrote off as victim-types about whom he did not have to care.
One of the contenders for the GOP nomination who fell by the way was former Pennsylvania senator and holy roller Rick Santorum, who warned that Romney was the "worst Republican" for the party to stand against Obama.
If it's all about winning then Rick, it seems, was right.