Victory Despite, Not Because
An accurate narrative will emerge in the very unlikely event Mitt Romney emerges as the victor next Tuesday. Romney ran a good, or at least workmanlike, campaign, the pundits will say, while Barack Obama ran a horrible campaign.
More likely, Barack Obama will earn a majority of electoral votes. Although there will be limited applause for his campaign, we will hear everywhere of an imaginary awful campaign conducted by his opponent.
It has already begun. Veteran Democratic strategist Bob Shrum cites the Republican's brazenly dishonest Jeep ad, rebutted by both Chrysler and parent company Fiat, as well as Romney's claim during the second debate "I- I think interesting the president just said something which- which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror." The former governor was immediately corrected by moderator Candy Crowley, who, anticipating the inevitable firestorm from Republicans who can't handle the truth, later unconvincingly corrected her correction. Too little, too late, fortunately.
Shrum notes the error of having "let an unscripted Clint Eastwood conduct a farcical debate with an empty chair." But there is little evidence that this bit of low, tasteless comedy hurt the campaign in anything but the slightest degree. Romney came out of the convention behind but other factors, including the backdrop of Hurricane Isaac, which forced a one-day postponement of the affair and cast an unavoidable pall on the festivities, probably played a greater role.
Then came Denver. The first presidential debate lifted Mitt Romney five, possibly even six, points in the polls, in part because pundits had built up the upcoming event as one which might have a seismic impact. (I was surprised, having argued that the first debate would not prove terribly significant.) Romney's favorability rating shot up as some pliable voters evidently concluded that the Republican presidential nominee was, in fact, a legitimate aspirant to the highest office in the land. Additionally, the talk which abounded before Denver that the big money people were considering abandoning an unwinnable presidential race for more credible congressional efforts ceased once Romney put on what was considered a dominating performance.
Mitt's momentum has stalled and even reversed. But statistical guru (or, as some Repubs imply, gay partisan) Nate Silver while explaining why an Obama victory is probable remarked "Mr. Obama's polls are worse than they were in the period in between the conventions and the debates. But they're better than they were immediately after Denver; he's gained back one percentage point, or perhaps a point-and-a-half, of what he lost." Net, Mitt Romney has gained approximately four points from that first debate, probably the signature moment of the presidential campaign, which probably will be mostly neglected in the wake of an Obama victory.
Shrum argues Romney's "colossal mistake on Libya in the second debate also prepared the way for the real October surprise, the bromance between" Obama and New Jersey governor Chris Christie. But there is little evidence (from Shrum or otherwise) of any connection between Libya and the Obama-Christie affair, other than an indirect one: Romney slipped up on Libya, his numbers declined, and Christie decided Obama would be re-elected. Far more likely are the other explanations. Perhaps the New Jersey governor was angling for an introduction to his idol, Bruce Springsteen; Christie, once spurned for the V.P. slot, was itching for an opportunity to sabotage the Romney campaign, so as not to foreclose his own chances in 2016; the GOP governor was seeking political advantage for his re-election campaign in a state with relatively few Republicans; the state's chief executive was, uncharacteristically, acting in his state's best interests.
Arguing "the fault is not just in the party but in himself," Shrum maintains
Romney made some unavoidable mistakes embedded in the DNA of today's GOP. He assumed, correctly, that in the primaries he had to pander on social issues to the religious right- and on immigration to a party that has become the modern incarnation of nativism. He can plead in mitigation that he had no choice- and if that is so, look for another Republican defeat in 2016. On Nov. 7, Romney may be asking himself: What does it profit a Mitt to gain a nomination and lose his chance to make history in the White House?"
The former private equity manager did, clearly, "pander on social issues to the religious right- and on immigration" and, to a lesser extent, to the donor base of the party, exemplars of the 1%. But having gained (aided by his V.P. selection, whose net impact on the campaign cannot be determined until the election results are in) the full support (though not the trust) of the popular and corporate bases of the party, Romney made a brilliant strategic calculation, executed in one 90-minute competition. The right-wing partisan of the primary season became the candidate advocating that any health care reform be "done on a bipartisan basis" and claiming his Medicare proposal originated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and President Clinton's chief-of-staff. The primary season's candidate of the 53%, appalled that most elderly persons, the poor, and a fair swath of the middle class don't pay federal income taxes, now asserted "regulation is essential," slammed the $716 billion reduction to the Medicare program his running mate had advocated in the House, and assured independent and centrist voters "we can care for the poor."
Ah, the 47%. Back in May, 2-3 months before the Republican National Convention, a candidate for the nomination of one of the two major political parties in the nations said
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49, 48- he starts off with a huge number. These are pople who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. And he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich, I mean that's what they sell every four years.And so my job is not to worry about those people- I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
It's Politics 101) and possibly the first rule of politics) to ask people for their vote. Here Mitt Romney- before he was nominated and began his general election campaign- said to nearly half the electorate: I'm not going to address your needs, so don't even think about voting for me. It was a message which dovetailed neatly with an individual who made hundreds of millions of dollars by getting companies to accumulate huge gobs of debt, virtually requiring them to strip jobs and the pensions of those who kept them, and which companies specialized in shipping jobs abroad, including many to Romney's favorite boogeyman, mainland China.
And what was the response by that man's opponent? During the second debate, he made his case about concern for the 47%; in the first and third debates, nothing. And the word "Bain" never crossed Barack Obama's lips in any of the three, in front of the three biggest audiences of autumn. Perhaps this was the price the candidate had to pay for the active support of Bill Clinton, who is chummy with the private equity set. However, Clinton instead probably was acting out of an interest in fostering the presidential prospects of his wife.
Barack Obama will be re-elected against a foe who, aside from his family (or at least his wife) apparently no one is personally fond. But contrary to what we will probably hear from Bob Shrum and others (especially others), he has been a terrible candidate and will not have defeated Mitt Romney, but a party whose professed, radical ideology is out of the mainstream of American thought.