You could look at it as a contest between the Republicans -- who like to give the gift of tax money back to the tax payer (recognizing, of course, that it's our money in the first place and thus not technically a 'gift') -- and the Democrats, who like to spend borrowed money to use for gifts. Perhaps part of Romney's problem was he wasn't promising big tax cuts, which may've been what got Bush elected in '00. (Or it could be simply that Romney didn't speak any Spanish, ha. And was worse on the border from the Hispanic perspective.)
With the debt as crushing as it is, the Republicans seem to have been the first to "blink", to promise less.
In some ways, pundit Michael Kinsley's thesis back in 1993 has a whiff of truth about it. In an interview with the sainted Brian Lamb:
There is a theme running through [my collection of essays], which is irritation at what I regard as the fairly fatuous pseudo populism that suffuses our politics at the moment; this idea that the politicians are terrible and the people, but the people are wonderful; that the people are being ignored by the politicians and that's the reason for our problems. I think the reason for many of our problems is that the politicians are exquisitely attuned to the people. The people say, "Cut our taxes, raise our benefits," and then get shocked when the result is a huge deficit. That's just one problem. That's the best example of my problem; that the people are very often big babies, unable to understand, as babies can't understand, that you have to give up something in the short term to get what you want in the long term.