Within the last few weeks, hardly a day has gone by in which someone did not email me or buttonhole me on the Hillsdale campus, wondering whether I still thought that Mitt Romney would win the Presidency by a landslide. My answer has always been the same. I thought that there was every likelihood that he would do so.
As some of you will remember, I laid out my reasoning in this regard on 8 August, when Romney was behind in the polls, in a blogpost on Ricochet entitled Landslide on the Horizon, and I stuck to it in September when nearly all of the pundits were wringing their hands. Here is how I began my post:
When I read Nate Silver, Sean Trende, Charlie Cook, Jay Cost, and the others who make a profession of political prognostication, I pay close attention to their attempts to dissect the polling data and predict what is to come. But I also take everything that they say with a considerable grain of salt. You see, I lived through the 1980 election, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and I was struck at the time by the fact that next to no one among the political scientists who made a living out of studying presidential elections, communism in eastern Europe, and Sovietology saw any of these upheavals coming. Virtually all of them were caught flat-footed.
This is, in fact, what you would expect. They were all expert in the ordinary operations of a particular system, and within that framework they were pretty good at prognostication. But the apparent stability of the system had lured them into a species of false confidence – not unlike the false confidence that fairly often besets students of the stock market.
There were others, less expert in the particulars of these systems, who had a bit more distance and a bit more historical perspective and who saw it coming. The Soviet dissident Andrei Amalrik wrote a prescient book entitled Can the Soviet Union Survive 1984?Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn predicted communism’s imminent collapse, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan suspected that the Soviet Union would soon face a fatal crisis. They were aware that institutions and outlooks that are highly dysfunctional will eventually and unexpectedly dissolve.
In my opinion, none of the psephologists mentioned above has reflected on the degree to which the administrative entitlements state – envisaged by Woodrow Wilson and the Progressives, instituted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and expanded by their successors – has entered a crisis, and none of them is sensitive to the manner in which Barack Obama, in his audacity, has unmasked that state’s tyrannical propensities and its bankruptcy. In consequence, none of these psephologists has reflected adequately on the significance of the emergence of the Tea-Party Movement, on the meaning of Scott Brown’s election and the particular context within which he was elected, on the election of Chris Christie as Governor of New Jersey and of Bob McDonnell as Governor of Virginia, and on the political earthquake that took place in November, 2010. That earthquake, which gave the Republicans a strength at the state and local level that they have not enjoyed since 1928, is a harbinger of what we will see this November.
I acknowledged in my post that Romney was behind in the polls, and I noted that It looked like a neck-and-neck race, but I argued that this was due to the fact that Barack Obama was spending everything that he had “in a desperate attempt to demonize Mitt Romney,” and I asserted that Americans were “not yet paying attention,” adding that “Obama’s support is a mile wide and a quarter of an inch deep.” “Of course,” I continued,
if Romney were a corpse as yet unburied on the model of Bob Dole and John McCain, he would lose. If you do not all that much care whether you win or not, you will lose. But Romney wants to win. He is a man of vigor, and he has a wonderful case to make. He is a turn-around artist, and this country desperately needs turning around. Barack Obama has no argument to make. He can only promise more of the same -- yet another stimulus and higher taxes on the investing class. All that Romney has to do if he wants to win is to make himself presentable, and that should not be hard. He is handsome, tolerably well-spoken, and accomplished. If, in the debates, he stands up to the President, he will seem the more presidential of the two – and that will do the trick, as it did in 1980.
The question that everyone will pose to himself on the first Tuesday in November is this: “Do I want four more years of this?” And Romney can drive it home: “Do you want four more years of massive unemployment? Do you want four more years of food stamps? Do you want to lose the job that you have? Do you want to be out of work when you get out of college? Or do you want to see this country get moving again? Barack Obama took his shot – the stimulus bill, Obamacare, and Dodd-Frank. And where has it left us? With the most anemic recovery in the history of this country!”
Romney can go on to speak of Obamacare. He can point to the corruption that Barack Obama brought from Chicago to Washington. He need only mention Solyndra and sound the theme of crony capitalism. Romney can also point to the President’s systematic misuse of the executive power – to defraud the salaried employees of Delphi and the bondholders of General Motors and Chrysler, to gut the welfare reform passed by New Gingrich and adopted by Bill Clinton, to let school systems out of No Child Left Behind, to sick the IRS on political enemies, to force people into unions, to encourage voter fraud, to deprive Catholics and other Christians of the free exercise of their religion. The list is long.
When the American people pause to pay attention, they will not vote for four more years of misery, four more years of corruption, four more years of lawlessness, four more years of race-baiting, and they will certainly not vote to embrace Obamacare.
In fact, Romney has done nearly everything that I suggested in early August. He kept his powder dry; he let Obama spend and spend and spend. Then come October, in the first debate, he forcefully raised all of the issues that I pointed to in the second of these four paragraphs and some of those outlined in the third of these paragraphs, and the issues that he did not raise in the debates were pressed in the advertising blitz mounted by his campaign and the SuperPACs supporting him – and this had precisely the effect that I suggested. Crowds jammed his rallies. He moved up dramatically in the polls, and states that seemed out of reach became contested.
In the last three months, I have been reading the polls, and I am aware that it has been made to look like a neck-and-neck race. But when I am in a position to peer under the hood of the polls that show President Obama ahead, I have consistently discovered that the poll operates under a preposterous assumption – that the voting public this coming Tuesday will be almost as Democratic or even more Democratic than the voting public was on the first Tuesday in November in 2008. The results that these pollsters get are baked in the cake. They are virtually certain consequences of the assumptions on which their polling is based. Everyone knows that, if the partisan predilections of the electorate in 2012 closely resembles those in 2008, the results will be pretty much the same.
The assumptions made by these pollster are, in fact, absurd. They ignore the turnout record for the two parties in 2010 – a year more recent than 2008 – and they ignore the fact that the issues in this Presidential election are those that animated the elector in 2010 – Obamacare, the deficit, etc. – not those that animated it in 2008. Moreover, both Gallup and Rasmussen, the two pollsters that carefully track party identification over time, report that party identification for those likely to vote in 2012 is virtually identical to the party identification of those who actually voted two years ago and radically different from what party identification was in 2008.
To be precise, in 2008, Gallup found that 39% of the electorate self-identified as Democrats and that 29% self-identified as Republicans. Today, the respective numbers are 35% and 36%. When one takes leaners into account the split in 2008 was 54-42, and today it is 46-49. Sympathy for the Democrats has dropped by 8% and sympathy for the Republicans has jumped by 7%. That is a 15% shift.
To this we can add any number of indicators – to begin with, the fact that the Obama campaign has in effect abandoned Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia; the fact that Romney is clearly competitive in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota – states that Republicans have not won in many years; the fact that the Obama campaign is thrashing about with talk of Romnesia and revenge; the fact that Romney has been endorsed by Newsday, The New York Daily News, the Des Moines Register, the Las Vegas Review Journal, and a host of other papers that, like these, have almost never in recent years endorsed a Republican Presidential nominee.
I could go on and on. But if you want to read an account of Romney’s prospects more sober and cautious than my own, take a look at what Michael Barone had to say in The Washington Examiner on Saturday. His state-by-state analysis deserves close attention.
I would disagree with Michael in only one particular. I believe, as I have believed since early August, that Romney’s victory will be much more impressive than Michael imagines. What happened in 2010 is going to be confirmed in spades. The electorate will break for him on Tuesday as they broke for Ronald Reagan on the first Tuesday in November in 1980.
Let me add that I believe something else as well – that, when it is all over, the adult wing of the Democratic Party (what is left of it) will breathe an audible sigh of relief. Barack Obama has done his party more harm than any President in the last hundred years (Jimmy Carter included); and, loyal partisans though these Democrats may be, they know it and they know that it is unimaginable that being a lame duck would improve the man’s performance. Four more years, and they would really be cooked.
When I look to 6 November, I have only one worry. I believe that the Republicans will hold onto almost all of their seats in the House of Representatives. I could, in fact, easily imagine their making small gains. The Senate is another matter. For understandable reasons, Mitt Romney has concentrated on his own campaign. To this end, he has run a personal and not a partisan campaign. He has asked that people vote for him because he is likely to be a more competent executive than the man now holding the Presidential office. He has also, at times, argued that the President is utterly wrongheaded, but this is not what he has most often emphasized. For this, he may pay a price. He may do what Ronald Reagan did in 1984 – win a landslide for himself but not for his party -- and win support for his managerial abilities but not for his program.
To do what Romney needs to do, he has to have a cooperative Senate, and there is no way that Harry Reid, who despises Romney, will play ball. Nor is it likely that the Democrats in the Senate will buck their leadership. As the last few years have made clear, those up for reelection will be afraid of primary opposition from the left, and those with longer horizons will figure that, when they come up for re-election, Romney’s leverage will be minimal.
It is common for politicians in general -- and for Republican presidential nominees in particular -- to operate on the basis of short-term calculations. This is nearly always a mistake, and I suspect that next year Mitt Romney will very much regret not having run a more partisan campaign. The Republicans as a whole should have done this year what Newt Gingrich and the Republicans in the House did in 1994 and what John Boehner and his merry men did in 2010. They should have had all their candidates, Romney included, ostentatiously sign on to an ambitious reform program. Had they done so, on Tuesday, we would be celebrating a Republican sweep. As things stand, the senatorial elections seem to me to be turning on local issues, and we will, I fear, lose some elections that we could have won had we nationalized them.
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