Almost a month has passed since Mitt Romney's defeat in the 2012 presidential election, but the finger pointing continues.
Some Republicans charge that Romney was a flawed candidate, while others insist the party's image was a drag on the ticket.
There's the argument that the Romney campaign was outmaneuvered by the Obama effort, versus the belief that the country's changing demographics ultimately doomed the former Massachusetts governor.
And then there's the opinion of Romney chief strategist Stuart Stevens, who suggested that Republicans shouldn't be pointing fingers at all.
But as the party begins looking ahead to the next presidential contest in 2016 and tries to learn from the lessons of November, the explanation for Romney's loss is perhaps much simpler: all of the above.
"You win and lose as a team," Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, said in an interview on MSNBC last week. "We have to look at everything we do -- from logistics to turnout to technology to message to tone."
Indeed, top Republican strategists interviewed for this article attribute Romney's defeat to a combination of factors, including the candidate's inability to better define himself, the Republican Party's unpopularity, the country's changing demographics and a campaign whose tactics seemed stuck in the 20th century.
There's an adage in American politics: Don't allow your opponent to define you before you define yourself.
But that's exactly what happened to Romney and his campaign, especially when it came to his business background.
Through television advertisements, its surrogates, and conference calls with reporters, the Obama camp and its allies portrayed Romney as an out-of-touch multi-millionaire who made his fortune, in part, by taking over companies that later laid off employees or cut their benefits.
Yet Romney's campaign didn't mount much of a defense -- particularly on the TV airwaves -- beyond arguing that such attacks smeared free enterprise. In fact, just a fraction of the ads aired by the Romney campaign and its allies portrayed the GOP candidate in a positive light.
"They did very, very little to prevent or defensively rebut the image Democrats put out there of Romney as the guy who laughed all the way to the bank with the mega-millions he made buying up companies and laying you/your dad/your brother off," said one Republican consultant who requested anonymity to speak more candidly.
What's more, that perception of Romney was only reinforced by his infamous "47 percent" comment, the scrutiny over the release of his tax returns, and even his campaign's message, which seemed more targeted to entrepreneurs and business owners -- rather than teachers, firefighters or factory workers.
While the Romney campaign's Stuart Stevens observes that exit polls showed the former Massachusetts governor winning a majority of voters from households earning $50,000 or more, Obama beat Romney by 10 points (53 percent to 43 percent) on the question of which candidate was more in touch with people like you.
In addition, 53 percent said Romney's policies would favor the rich (versus just 10 percent who said the same about Obama). And the Republican candidate's favorable/unfavorable score was 47 percent/50 percent (compared with Obama's positive 53 percent/46 percent).
"At the end of the day, messenger and message matters in American politics," said a Republican strategist who also requested anonymity.
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