The Edge of Panic

Last night’s performance by Biden – capering, giggling, near-maniacal opera buffa – was targeted in one place: a dispirited, demoralized Democratic base on the edge of panic.

Paul Ryan was businesslike, steady, and on-point. He hit solid doubles all night, and that’s all he needed to do. If he’d been as amped and manic as Biden, it would have been a political and imaging disaster.

Biden aimed to throw the Obama base a lifeline. He fed the Kos Kidz desperate need to see some fight, but at the cost of his remaining (and mostly notional) dignity. If you want a gibbering, snorting, mumbling clown with a rictus-grin locked on his mug a heartbeat away from controlling America’s nuclear arsenal, Joe Biden’s your guy.

Ryan aimed to meet the standard of gravitas and presence, to demonstrate to the fabled female/suburban/swing/moderate voters that he’s not a scary granny-killing Terminator sent from the future to throw seniors into the snowbank. He had to demonstrate steadiness, stature and knowledge. Done and done.

The conventional wisdom this morning is that the debate was a tie. That conventional wisdom is (as is so often the case) dead wrong. Biden played to his base, trying to dig Obama out of the hole he’s been trapped in since last week’s debate trainwreck. Ryan played to the center, to the swing and to the late-engagers. The post-hoc coverage won’t factor into their decisions: the pictures and Biden’s mugging, drunk-uncle affect will. (Also, Biden opened several new, Costco-scale cans of worms for the Administration on the Libya scandal.)

In short, Biden did nothing to reset the race, and the edge of panic is still there in the Obama campaign.

When edifices – particularly political edifices built around the myth and personality of one man – collapse, they collapse suddenly. The center does not hold. The man dragged from the spider hole isn’t a dictator, he’s a prisoner. The Master of the Universe hedge fund manager who’s really just a Ponzi schemer gets booked at Rikers like the rest of ‘em. The spell cast by power, once broken, is hard to restore.

(And no, I’m not comparing Obama to infamous war criminals. I’m examining the way people view organizations centered on a leader, not on an idea, and why they’re ultimately fragile.)

In the case of the Obama Personality Cult, we believed the Maximum Leader was more brilliant, more charismatic and more skillful than our own candidate. Sure, he was wrong on the issues, a disaster from start to finish, but we still felt a sense of intimidation. That changed last week, as I outlined here.

In the 2012 election, as long as Obama was inevitable, he was inevitable. Beyond the pundits, there was the emerging belief that the macro polling models of guys like Nate Silver could not be wrong. The basic message was, “Obama’s certainty of reelection is so large entirely new domains of mathematics are required to state it properly.”

The arguments for Romney’s election were always framed as, “Well, IF he wins Florida and IF he wins Virginia and IF Hillary is an Al Qaida sleeper agent and IF Biden is caught in a Delaware hotel room with a Guatemalan pan flute band and a non-consenting farm animal…then maybe there’s a fraction of a chance.”

The political media declared Mitt Romney dead for thirty long days between the end of the convention and the debate. But somewhere in those thirty days, Mitt Romney was born again.  Hard.

You can see the fear in the Obama campaign now, as they careen from message to message, flailing, desperate for something – anything – to stick.

You can see their gyros tumbling as they slew from Big Bird to abortion to “Mitt Romney is a lying liar liarpants McLiar” to the walking disaster that is Stephanie Cutter every time she opens her mouth to the remarkable, bizarre interview the Three Divas (Axelrod, Plouffe and Messina, obviously) gave Mark Halperin this week. Their campaign is out of control, and they know it.

They know how much they lost after the last debate. They know how many millions of television advertising dollars were flushed down the drain as Obama broke down in the last debate and as Mitt Romney introduced himself to the country. They know how, after the debate, Romney surged to a lead or a tie in the swing states. They know that there are a handful of states now that were solidly in Obama’s camp that are wavering, teetering and suddenly uncertain.

Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Michigan have moved in the RCP averages from “Leans Obama” to “Toss-up”… today’s polls are about to move a number of other states into the “Lean Romney” column. Florida will likely move there in the coming days. It’s not just the swing states, and they know it.

The swing states matter, but when any of the states of Obama’s “Blue Wall” flips in the polls to “Lean Romney,” the cascade effect will be psychologically devastating. For months, there were two underlying predicates for an Obama victory: first, that Obama was inevitable, and second, that Mitt Romney’s path to 270 electoral votes was narrow and highly constrained.

Today, it’s Obama’s path that seems to be narrowing.

Their panic tastes delicious.

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  1. Devereaux

    “When a wise person debates with a fool, the fool rages and laughs, and there is no peace and quiet.” Proverbs 29:9.

  2. Rick Wilson
    C

    Oooh, that’s so good.

    Devereaux: “When a wise person debates with a fool, the fool rages and laughs, and there is no peace and quiet.” Proverbs 29:9. · 4 minutes ago

  3. Mel Foil

    Of course they’re panicked. When the party in the White House changes, thousands of cushy political appointment jobs change hands too. Then it’s a REAL recession–not just some political environment that you can take advantage of if you spin it properly.

  4. Doug Lee
    Their panic tastes delicious. · · 8 minutes ago

    “Yes! Yesss! Oh, let me taste your tears…Mm, your tears are so yummy and sweet!”

  5. Rick Wilson
    C

    I tried to work in a Scott Tenerman joke into the close but abandoned it lol.

    Doug Lee

    Their panic tastes delicious. · · 8 minutes ago

    “Yes! Yesss! Oh, let me taste your tears…Mm, your tears are so yummy and sweet!” · 0 minutes ago

  6. slublog

    capering, giggling, near-maniacal opera buffa

    Pure poetry.

  7. ConservativeWanderer

    Nattering Nabobs of Negativism showing up to declare that Obama is still going to trounce Romney… in 5… 4…

  8. Pseudodionysius
    Rick Wilson: I tried to work in a Scott Tenerman joke into the close but abandoned it lol.

    Doug Lee

    Their panic tastes delicious. · · 8 minutes ago

    “Yes! Yesss! Oh, let me taste your tears…Mm, your tears are so yummy and sweet!” · 0 minutes ago

    21 minutes ago

    LOL is technically a TLA (Three Letter Acronym) CoC violation on Ricochet. I’ll let it go this time, but, we’re watching.

  9. Sister

    Thank you! This is too funny!

    Linda Fiori: I think this about sums up his crazy… http://www.buzzfeed.com/gavon/the-many-gesticulations-of-joe-biden · 21 minutes ago

  10. ConservativeWanderer

    From a friend who stubbornly refuses to join Ricochet:

    I watched some of it…had to keep changing off because of baseball and Biden (ugh).  I did jump over to PMSNBC for about a minute or two after watching a few minutes of post-debate on FNC.  In that minute I think I heard at least 4 of the people at the table either say Ryan lied or that Romney was a liar. Sharpton was the final straw there…he said something like, ‘Ryan isn’t as an accomplished liar as Romney’…I simply couldn’t watch that anymore. However, they did say a couple of salient points…Biden did land blows on Afghanistan and in other areas of foreign policy as well as entitlements. They didn’t say a word about Libya :p. 

    He said a lot more, but it would take two more comments to get it all in.

  11. Pablo
    Devereaux: “When a wise person debates with a fool, the fool rages and laughs, and there is no peace and quiet.” Proverbs 29:9. · 47 minutes ago

    Devereaux, I hope you are not calling Joe Biden a fool…. I know some fools, and they won’t be happy when I tell them about your comparison… excellent quote, thought.

    Mr. Wilson, I loved your post. I really enjoyed every line and punch. I think we are all building up a big picture of what is going on with all these absurd adverts,  everybody in the campaign in Panic Mode, etc, etc. And little things are adding up like what James Lileks mentioned about Jay Leno making jokes on Obama… As you implied, the building is collapsing, lets us hope it happens with all of them inside..

  12. liberal jim

    A year ago when things were better, if GDP figures are to be believed, it was thought that no matter who the GOP nominated they would win.  A week or so before Romney named Ryan all the stories were of a collapsing Romney campaign, then it was all stories of a Romney/Ryan  surge, post conventions the opposite was the case and there were few conservatives that would  say anything positive about the Romney campaign.  Then the first debate and the exact opposite was the case.  I doubt the roller coaster ride is over.

  13. Cutlass

    The Dems have really gone off the rails. They honestly think Biden was brilliant and this was a game changer.

    Roger Simon in Politico:

    Biden smirked, sneered, and openly laughed at many of Ryan’s responses. It could have looked rude, but Biden made it look tough.

    E.J. Dionne in WaPo:

    Biden was hot, avuncular, occasionally sarcastic, and always engaged. He laughed a lot, and never let a point slip

    Ey! The life of the party! Uncle Joe, yukking it up over joblessness and nuclear Iran!

    And are terms like smirk, sneer and sarcastic now indicative of virtue? 

    Some are even suggesting that Biden just became the front runner for 2016.

    Aside from everything else, the man will be 75 years old in 2017.

    Amazing.

  14. Cutlass
    Linda Fiori: I think this about sums up his crazy… http://www.buzzfeed.com/gavon/the-many-gesticulations-of-joe-biden · 54 minutes ago

    That’s fantastic. I think my favorite is “The Redd Foxx.”

  15. Barbara Kidder

    But all of the above, notwithstanding, Mr. Robinson believes that Senator Biden ‘won’.

    What alarms me now, more than ever, is that there are only a few options left to the Obama team;   e.g. provoking a crisis somewhere in the world that would scare many from switching horses on November 6, and the far more attractive option;  stealing the election!

    As Mr. Robinson may remember, I have recently implored him to address the issue of ‘voter fraud’ and its potential to tip this election in the key swing states.

    Perhaps, if others will petition the ‘powers that be’ at Ricochet, we will be able to read some thoughtful analysis on this ‘dark’ subject, BEFORE November 6.

    Pleeeeeeeese!

  16. wmartin
    ConservativeWanderer: Nattering Nabobs of Negativism showing up to declare that Obama is still going to trounce Romney… in 5… 4… · 1 hour ago

    I’ll bite….we got some good news in polling this morning, but bad news on the economic front. Consumer sentiment rose this month to pre-recession levels, which puts Obama right in the reelection zone (as does his current job approval ratings). With virtually every economic indicator running Obama’s way, it’s a race against the clock until Nov 6th.

  17. ConservativeWanderer

    Hey, Mr. Wilson… and Busy System Admin… prepare for a ton of hits!

    I am informed by Mr. Patrick Richardson (whom I’ve mentioned often) that this post is about to be Instalanched, courtesy of guest Instapundit blogger Sarah A. Hoyt.

    Hope the Ricochet servers are up for the deluge!

  18. Patrick in Albuquerque

    So there’s been two debates now. In prep for debate #3, what has each side learned from the first two?

  19. K T Cat

    I’m sorry, but the title Maximum Leader is already taken. Please find another one.

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