Let me begin by saying that I have tremendous respect for Mitt Romney and what he has accomplished in his personal life.  However, this election was a competition between the two most pathetically small-minded presidential candidates in history.  Neither side laid out a vision for where they want to take this country.  Romney promised 12 million new jobs and a restored economy.  That’s a campaign promise, not a vision.  And the details of his plan to get the economy growing again were about as informative as the nutrition label on a bottle of water.  Aside from occasional rhetoric about the American Dream, all we ever got from Romney was “Believe in America,” which is a bumper sticker at best. Paul Ryan is a Republican visionary, whether you agree with his vision or not.  However, while Romney endorsed Ryan’s “Roadmap for America,” he didn’t run on it and missed the opportunity to at least adopt someone else’s vision if he could not come up with his own.

President Obama had many things going for him four years ago, but it was his vision for a post-partisan America with a renewed faith in the institution of government that the electorate bought into and which propelled him to securing the nomination and crushing John McCain.  This time around the president didn’t even propose an agenda for the next four years much less a vision.  Obama just became the first president to win re-election with absolutely no platform (not to mention his abysmal record), which says a lot about Romney’s campaign.

It should not be surprising that Americans were hesitant about voting for the GOP on Tuesday night.  The Republican leader in the Senate Mitch McConnell infamously declared that his primary job was preventing Obama’s re-election, rather than, say, helping America.  The House Republicans have a capable leader in John Boehner, but the caucus is deeply divided between Tea Party members and non-Tea Party members which makes it exceedingly difficult to accomplish anything.  And the Republican presidential candidate promised to be America’s administrator without necessarily making the case that he would be the best leader for our nation.  When Paul Ryan joined the ticket the excitement he produced was undeniable, not just because he brought enthusiasm and conservatism to the ticket, but because he possessed a vision we could see and was a leader we could follow.

The GOP did field some groundbreaking candidates on the Congressional level, but in the end none prevailed.  Allen West, a prominent black Republican in the crucial state of Florida, was voted out of office.  Mia Love ran for Congress in Utah, and had she won, she would have become the first black female Mormon in Congress.  Richard Tisei in Massachusetts came within a point of becoming the first openly gay Republican to run and win.  A Tisei victory also would have demonstrated that Republicans can prevail in deep blue states, and that Scott Brown was not a fluke.  In order for Republicans to win nationally, they need to re-shape the party and grow the platform to recognize the changes in voter preferences and the demographics of the new electorate.

There are many things Romney could have done differently that would have helped him win Tuesday night.  Choosing Marco Rubio as his running mate would have picked up support in the Latino community and locked down Florida.  The gender gap could have been closed if Romney was pro-choice (although he never would have won the nomination had he still been on that side of the issue).  If Romney had avoided even half of his gaffes he would have been more relatable for average Americans and performed better in blue-collar states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.  But America did not need a Romney win; America needed a leader, someone who can see beyond the constraints of the past to the promise of the future and make that future our reality.  This nation’s problems are too great for narrow victories and small-minded political games.  Unfortunately, that’s all we got from either side in this election cycle.

Garrett Jacobs | University of North Carolina | @GarrettMJacobs