After most presidential campaigns, advisors and strategists for the losing team routinely start reflecting on what transpired, and start acknowledging doubts they couldn't share before Election Day. They put on a brave face and sounded confident notes beforehand, and couldn't share suspicions they'd come up short, but they weren't oblivious to the likely outcome.
Team Romney, however, claims to have been oblivious to the likely outcome.
Mitt Romney's campaign got its first hint something was wrong on the afternoon of Election Day, when state campaign workers on the ground began reporting huge turnout in areas favorable to President Obama: northeastern Ohio, northern Virginia, central Florida and Miami-Dade. Then came the early exit polls that also were favorable to the president.
But it wasn't until the polls closed that concern turned into alarm. They expected North Carolina to be called early. It wasn't. They expected Pennsylvania to be up in the air all night; it went early for the President. After Ohio went for Mr. Obama, it was over, but senior advisers say no one could process it.
"We went into the evening confident we had a good path to victory," said one senior adviser. "I don't think there was one person who saw this coming."
This really is remarkable. When I heard the bravado from the candidate and his aides going into Tuesday, I assumed it was just the usual p.r. palaver. But it appears they weren't spinning, hoping to sell talking points they didn't themselves believe; they were actually, genuinely clueless. Romney himself, one advisor told CBS, "was shellshocked."
Putting aside every other consideration, the question Republicans should be asking this week is how the campaign could be this incompetent. It's one thing to have a couple of blind optimists in the inner circle, confident in the face of contrary evidence; it's another to have everyone in the inner circle be so blind.
And how, exactly, did the entire campaign operation fool themselves into believing victory was inevitable? How is this dynamic even possible in an environment in which experienced, well-paid, professional operatives have access to quantifiable evidence?
According to the CBS report, Team Romney was swayed by, among other things, "huge and enthusiastic crowds," which they took as evidence of national enthusiasm.
And what about the polls? The campaign assumed they were "skewed" by Democratic oversamples. Oops.
State polls showed Romney winning big among independents. Historically, any candidate polling that well among independents wins. But as it turned out, many of those independents were former Republicans who now self-identify as independents. The state polls weren't oversampling Democrats and undersampling Republicans - there just weren't as many Republicans this time because they were calling themselves independents.
Campaign-management textbooks will likely use the Romney/Ryan campaign as a model for what not to do in the future.