Behind the Magic Trick

Once you know the secret behind a magic trick, it loses its appeal.

No matter how carefully crafted, no matter how spectacular the effect, no matter how much skill goes into its design, once you see the wires, or know where the secret compartment is, the trick stops being magic and becomes nothing more than engineering.

The trick the Obama campaign has executed beautifully this month is to demoralize and dismay the GOP base. A combination of a very, very, very heavy TV buy in swing states (pay attention, because this is a rabbit they can’t pull out every week), a fierce assault on Romney at every turn (abetted by a cooperative press that loves the taste of blood) and a series of public polls that have played into a self-reinforcing narrative that Obama is inevitable.

The trick is a good one, and to judge from the wailing and lamentations on our side, it’s been working.

But it’s just a trick.

Let’s pull back the curtain, shall we?

The polling-validity battle has gone on for weeks now, and I’ll skip recounting the arguments on both sides. Yes, they’re playing 2008+ model games. No, it isn’t a just a conspiracy by the liberal media. Yes, the race is closer than the public polls show – on either side. The poll coverage looks the way it does because the media monster is always hungry, confirmation bias is like slipping into a warm bath and the herd runs the same direction, despite the facts.

The polls are what they are and September polls are never, ever wrong… except of course in 1948, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004. (h/t the amazing Jay Cost for that one).

See? You just saw one of the wires that make the trick work.

The polling is presented superficially, with typically only the toplines and a degree of analysis that is facile at best. There’s no context, history or depth. I’ve covered this problem a bit here and here.

So the polls became part of the message of chest-beating triumphalism by Team Obama. The drumbeat of Obama’s glorious, inexorable ascension to another four years in the Oval Office is something Chicago feeds to the media, but doesn’t for a second believe themselves.

The entire purpose of the last two weeks on their side is to game early voting. That’s it. It’s not about the end game, but rather an attempt to roll up some numbers in key states before the debates start and the campaign joins in earnest. They’re desperate to have you demoralized, depressed and sitting home in your living room, grumbling at Fox instead of voting early.

The Democrats know very well this race will tighten even further toward the end, and that the Potemkin Village of polls showing Barack Obama with a double-digit lead is just that.

They know that all the balls Obama is juggling now are, statistically and politically, impossible to keep airborne. They know the run of Obama-is-God stories will collide with reality, whether economic, diplomatic or political. They know that Romney’s spending is catching up, fast, and will peak in the last week of October in a furious orgy of television ads and a get-out-the-vote program like nothing the GOP has done before.

Their air of serene confidence is another part of the trick they didn’t want you to see. They want you to view the campaign as a static object, fixed in the moment, not as the barfight we’re about to experience.

They even know that their very cooperative friends in the media may be liberal, but they’re driven by watching the Big Show, up close and personal. They want a contest, and a good number of the more professional of them (and no, kids, they’re not a single, unified liberal cabal…more like an online Bieber fan club) admit that they’ve been soft on him. They want some sport. They want to see the fight last until the end. They’re about to get it.

Now, you’ve not only seen what the magician is doing, but you know why. Now, you know who the mark is in this particular con game.

It’s you.

— If you liked this post and want to join the conversation on it, click here to sign up for a One-Month Free Trial Offer. —