On the Eve of the Election, a Nearly Impossible Resurgence Overturns the Conventional Wisdom
It’s not that I take it personally, but Mitt Romney’s unlikely comeback in the month prior to the election seems an exercise in ill-mannered contravention of the irrefutable criticism delivered in the October column.
Then again, he didn’t suddenly become a better campaigner or start running high-minded and impressive ads.
And the new-right hacks doing the loudest work on his behalf didn’t stop lying, slandering and trafficking in irrational rage and reprehensible bigotry.
As MODE goes to press just a few days before the election, Barack Obama and his risen-from-the-electoral-dead challenger are in as tight a race as Bush-Gore in 2000 (remember that allusion – it will come up later) and Romney owes it entirely to one thing:
His petty desire to disprove my perfect analysis and odds-making.
And, maybe, a little, tiny unremarkable bit to that first debate.
There aren’t many potentially outcome-changing upsets in political debates, which haven’t had the substance or worth of the Lincoln-Douglas debates since, well, Lincoln and Douglas. And those were for the U.S. Senate.
In fact, since the Nixon-Kennedy debates there hasn’t been more than an over-replayed sound bite or an over-analyzed gesture to come out of these timewasters.
But Jesus Tap-dancing Christ, Mr. Hat, we finally got news and impact in Denver when Romney pulled off an upset that journalists, political junkies, academics and dumb ideologues will natter about for years.
Magic Underwear was aggressively prepared and swinging hard from the first bell, even to the point of bad etiquette. Mr. Still Hoping for Change barely answered the bell and was little more than somnambulant, and afterwards wandering off the stage to his wife’s quizzical expression while Romney seemed to shadowbox clumsily as the coverage cut away.
(Yeah, OK – no more boxing metaphors. Sorry.)
No honest, rational person can truthfully deny that Obama had always been the better debater. And the better campaigner, the better speaker and, yeesh, the far better singer.
But with one bad outing, one tired evening, one distracted night in the thinner air (yeah, that realy explains it), Obama blew what was almost certain to be a clear Electoral College win. Close perhaps in the popular vote, but where it counts, the demography and mathematics of that anti-democratic 18th century abomination gave him a nearly insurmountable edge.
It hasn’t mattered that Obama won the next two debates on points. Only an actual knockout would’ve reversed things again (oh, shut up – it works here). Thanks in no small part to his opponent, Romney turned this into a real race in Denver and the math now gives us only a couple of ways this will end, each muddier but at least less conventional than should have been possible.
Fact: The realities of the Electoral College are still solely to Obama’s advantage. No measure of that indefensible mechanism’s current political demography helps Romney, who would need to run the presumably key swing states for a conventional victory.
Fact: As long as there’s an Electoral College, the American voter doesn’t decide who wins the presidency. (I told you Bush-Gore 2000 would come up again. Or look at Benjamin Harrison-Grover Cleveland in 1888, if you prefer.) Stupid constitutional gimmicks matter, even if they defile the most important democratic process of the republic.
Either man could win the popular vote but lose the election. But given Obama’s electoral advantage this scenario is most likely if Romney can eke out the popular vote. It won’t get him the White House, but it’s the only situation in which national polling numbers ever matter at all.
Fact: Unconventional wisdom and truly unusual contrivances of circumstance rarely matter, but when they actually manifest you might want to hold on to your ass. (Without freak-show Ross Perot, Bill Clinton never wins in 1992. Fact.)
If Obama and Romney split Ohio and Florida and the algebra of the Electoral College is in near equivalence the outcome will likely be decided by a small, quirky state like New Hampshire or Iowa – which usually don’t actually matter at all.
Sure, a larger and more diverse state like Colorado could be the lynchpin, but ironically (or at least more interestingly), the weirdness, smallness, usual insignificance and blinding whiteness of Iowa and New Hampshire make for the most compelling model.
In Iowa, the GOP has been hijacked by new-right theocratic extremists who have actively warred on traditional Republicans and purged the party of nearly all legitimate Republicans. The radical biblehumpers are bigoted against Romany and Obama both, for reasons of religion, ideology and, don’t kid yourself, race. (That mostly applies to Obama. But the trash we’re talking about are so hateful toward other Christians who differ from them in any way that they probably don’t consider the Mormon Romney to be actually white, either. Obama being equally white and black only enrages them more, apparently.)
Nonetheless, many (probably most) will support Romney as, in their blind eyes, the lesser evil. But Iowa Dems have strength, organization and their own ideologically angry motives. So as was always the case, independents and moderates – demeaned and mistreated as they are except when it comes to manipulative political exploitation – are going to decide the presidency. Fact.
And that also matters in New Hampshire, where flinty New Englanders tend to be more rational, pragmatic and, in the case of the GOP, more legitimately Republicans and conservatives. They don’t like traitorous theocrats and social fascists and are off-put by the ugliness of the new right.
And that’s also true of New Hampshire independents, who are as likely to be fiscal hawks and economic rationalists as the state’s Republicans. And both are also likely to hold the truly conservative philosophy that other people have no right to stick their fascist noses into your bedroom, or to religionize public education, the law and government. And there are enough Democrats and traditional liberals to ensure the state’s outcome is in the hands of the middle.
Nationally, independents and moderates went to Obama in 2008, and all reliable, unbiased research shows them to be the most disaffected political demographic.
Which gives us one sure conclusion – the center, not the hateful extremists of the left and right, will decide the presidency. And that’s as it should be.
But as a broad, diverse amalgam of America, too many in that vast middle are ill-informed, malleable, fickle and as given to stupidity as the bucket-headed ideologues who abusively dominate politics and governance.
Meaning it’s not just that they can break either way. They can break impulsively, dumbly and, probably, very, very closely.
Which at last brings us to THE FINAL ODDS: Obama remains an absolute slight favorite because of the Electoral College, which can turn a paper-thin margin in the popular vote into a decisive win.
But the permutations are so variable that even if something else unexpected and influential weren’t to happen in the very few days between MODE going to press and Election Day, the odds are now unusually tight, and to be honest, meaningless.
Romney felt some cheap need to put the fork to me, and now an ugly political season is ending in a likely morass. But a potentially amusing or interesting morass. And at least I’m not actually taking or making bets, because this one is as close as Jerry Sandusky is to hell. Just not as certain.
Obama 7:5, Romney 7:4.
But take this to the bank: Despite all the shrieking nonsense from the left and right, this is not the most important election in American history or even in anyone’s life, except for the candidates themselves.
No matter who wins, the republic will survive and little beyond a jangling of the nickels and dimes will change. Fact.