In his lovely retelling of the Arthurian legends, The Once and Future King, T. H. White imagines Merlin preparing the young Arthur for his future role by turning him into a wide variety of natural beings, living and dead, so that "Wart" can learn to see the world from every possible perspective. When Arthur is turned into a mountain, he gains insight into the eons-long succession of eruption and erosion that shapes a mountain's life.
By contrast, political commentators have the attention span of Mayflies. An hour for them is a lifetime, a day an eon. All of them are obsessed with a question that will, after all, be decisively answered only 101 days from now: Who will win the 2012 presidential election? You might think that a touch of gravitas, if not simple prudence, would restrain them from making predictions that risk almost immediate refutation. But since all they have to offer is their opinions, they must forge on, announcing with conviction what the morrow will bring.
As a blogger, I am structurally committed to the role of commentator on the passing scene. Accordingly, I hereby lay down my marker: Mitt Romney will not win the presidency [and Obama will be re-elected.] What follows is an analysis based in part on the work of others, in part on my own idle reflections during the long flight from Heathrow to Raleigh-Durham that brought Susie and me home on Sunday.
To win a presidential election between two candidates, one of them must amass 270 electoral votes. Nothing else matters. It is generally agreed that Obama is certain to take some states [New York, California, Massachusetts, for example] and Romney is certain to take others [Texas, South Carolina, Utah, Georgia, etc.] Analysts have slightly varied lists of these sure things. Some actually give Obama enough states to yield more than 270 electoral votes, but most think that he can count on perhaps 250 to 260. Romney is thought to be able to count on between 190 and 210. The remaining states, usually referred to as "Battleground States," will decide the election.
Obviously, the challenge facing Romney is quite different from that facing Obama. Obama need merely win one or two of the states that are up for grabs, in a number of which polls now show him with small leads. Romney, on the other hand, must run the table. Even if he wins Florida and Virginia and Ohio, which would be an extraordinary accomplishment, he will lose if he lets Michigan or North Carolina slip away.
What does Romney have to offer voters that will persuade them to give him this sweep of the battleground states? Well, if we remember that most Americans pay very little attention to politics and public affairs [forty percent were quite unaware that the Supreme Court had even handed down a ruling on the Affordable Care Act, let alone how it had decided], I think we can confidently say that Romney has available to him just four arguments, each of which is simple enough to put on a bumper sticker: He was a governor, he is a rich businessman, he is a Mormon, and he looks presidential.
Romney's service as a governor has been ruled out by the unfortunate fact that he was, as governor, the pioneer in the health care reform that yielded Obamacare. Too much attention to his governorship will alienate his base, whose enthusiastic support he needs if he is to have any chance of winning.
Romney cannot run on the fact that he is a Mormon [as Mike Huckebee ran for the nomination in 2008 on the fact that he is a born-again Christian], because Mormonism is actually, when you look at it, a rather weird and creepy sect that denies some of the central tenets of Christianity. Most American know nothing at all about Mormonism, and pretty clearly Romney's electoral chances depend on things staying that way.
Romney does really look presidential. He would be perfect in a rightwing version of West Wing. But you cannot win the presidency merely by looking like a president.
So that leaves Romney's great financial success at Bain Capital, the company he founded and ran until -- depending on which documents you look at and whom you listen to -- 1999 or 2002. Romney's entire case for his candidacy can be summed up in four simple sentences [as many other people have pointed out]: The American economy is a mess. Obama has not fixed it. I am a successful businessman. I can fix it.
The Obama campaign, which understands all of this far better than I, and has understood it for as long as Romney was even a speck on the horizon, has poured all of its efforts and much of its money into attacking Romney's tenure at Bain. And they have been successful in this sense: they have made his record as a businessman a matter of controversy.
It really does not matter whether you think the Obama campaign or the Romney campaign is winning that argument. So long as they have made Romney's one claim to fame a matter of controversy, Romney is not going to be able to run the table by winning virtually all of the battleground states.
I conclude that it is virtually certain that Romney will not win the election, which means that Obama will.