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Tuesday, July 17, 2012


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.


Don Schneier said...

Because of the seeming inescapability from his Bain problems, I don't regard it as implausible that Romney's puppet-masters will seek elsewhere in time for the convention.

Michael said...

I agree with you (and hope we're both right). Although since it doesn't look like the dems will do well in the house or senate (and barring the sudden emergence of a popular leftist third party, I might as well root for them), I'll continue to be worried.

Scott said...

Talk is cheap. Care to bet on that?

NotHobbes said...

"The remaining states, usually referred to as "Battleground States," will decide the election"

Would I be right in assuming that these states rarely fluctuate? That the same decisive seats are contested time and again, whilst the majority vote as their parents did; who in turn, vote as their parents had too.
Another question, do those in power constantly change the constituency area as they do here? Manipulating the boundaries to their advantage?
Apologies for ignorance

NotHobbes said...

Really funny sketch on 'Rotten Boroughs'

Charles Pigden said...

Does Romney really look Presidential? Rather he looks to me like a gifted and handsome actor in late middle-age, turning in a bravura performance as a shifty and dishonest Presidential candidate.

Charles Pigden said...

Does Romney really look Presidential? Rather he looks to me like a gifted and handsome actor in late middle-age, turning in a bravura performance as a shifty and dishonest Presidential candidate.

Eoin said...

While we are in the business of making predictions, I predict that the next Tom Tomorrow comic will illustrate your point precisely,

Conrad Decker said...

Do not underestimate the hatred of certain people for the "negro president". There are many, many rich people who loathe Obama to a degree that would be funny were it not so pathetic and fueled by the worst in American politics. I happen to know a few of these guys via my ex father-in-law. They will drop tons of money to get this guy out!! How do you suppose Bush won?

Unknown said...

I'm surprised to see you write that "Mormonism is actually, when you look at it, a rather weird and creepy sect." Do you really want to insult an entire denomination, a worldview, a set of deep commitments held by a great many people? That does not seem consonant with the generally high tone of your blog.

Perhaps you meant to say that Mormonism seems creepy to enough American voters that Romney cannot make it a centerpiece of his campaign. That might be a defensible claim. But the insult?

Full disclosure: I'm entirely non-religious, and so I'm not defending my faith here. I don't have one. I'm trying to defend the civility of discourse.

Fritz Allhoff said...

I think it's just too early to say that 250-260 electoral votes are assured. So much of this will come down to the state of the economy and voter turn-out. If gas goes back up over $4, if the DOW drops under 12,000, in unemployment rises, etc., it's a completely new ballgame. And, with uncertainty in Europe, at least some of these things may well happen.

Obama is more likely to win, and something has to change for Romney to win. But that change has less to do with either of the candidates than it does with exogenous factors. For now, I'd say 75% chance Obama wins, and I'd bet on him to win. But it's just well too early to be sure.

Aliyah said...

Concerning Blattner's sanctimonious comment: Does the question of the TRUTH of Bob's claim not precede the question whether it is insulting? It's almost as though you think that the claim that "Mormonism is actually, when you look at it, a rather weird and creepy sect" is self-evidently false since you provide no evidence whatsoever that it might be.

This is, however, pretty obvious: the mere fact that something is "a worldview, a set of deep commitments held by a great many people" has absolutely no tendency to make the "worldview" true.

Hugh Manaty said...

You left out the attempts at blocking the vote of those likely to vote democrat.

There is also the huge amount of money pouring into the race. That has to have an effect somehow.

I never want to jinx it by calling it although my gut feeling is just as yours is. But then I remember how Bush won a second time and all my confidence goes out the window.

W said...

I would like to agree with you, for so many reasons, but Romney has various businessmen donating hundreds of millions of dollars destroy Obama. Don't forget the 'Swift Boat Veterans' lies turning a draft-dodging deserter into a president over a decorated front line foot soldier.

Unknown said...

In response to Aliyah, yes the question whether a claim is true does precede the question whether it's insulting. But "weird" and "creepy" do not strike me as descriptions that admit of evaluation in terms of "true" and "fase," at least not easily and without a lot of preparatory work. That's why I characterized them as "insults," rather than "descriptions." And as indicated, deploying mass insults directed at a religious denomination does not seem to me to be the sort of discourse for which Wolff has stood up in this blog, namely, reasoned and civil discourse.

Aliyah said...

Right, so Wolff's blog has maintained this "high tone", consistently deploying "the sort of discourse for which Wolff has stood up in this blog, namely, reasoned and civil discourse". Then Wolff makes a single comment that upsets your tender sensibilities, and you respond pompously and passive-aggressively. (I mean these descriptively.)

Wouldn't inductive reasoning suggest that Wolff's comment is not after all really an exception, but that he intends it to be understood the way people generally understand his commentary (i.e. as reasoned and civil)? Instead, you instantly assume the worst, ask a rhetorical insulting question ("Do you really want to insult..."), and condescendingly suggest a way for Bob to redeem himself ("Perhaps you meant to say...").

Do you actually know anything about Mormonism? Does it not seem possible that it essentially involves beliefs and practices that would count as "weird" and "creepy" compared with normal beliefs and practices? For instance, they believe the east bluffs above the Grand River in Daviess County, Missouri is where Adam and Eve lived after being expelled from Eden ( Also, they've taken to posthumously baptizing Holocaust victims, such as Simon Wiesenthal's parents (for which BTW they've apologized: Perhaps this is the kind of thing Bob had in mind?

Want to maintain the "high tone"? Here's what you should have said. "Could you please explain what you mean by saying that 'Mormonism is actually, when you look at it, a rather weird and creepy sect'?"