I still don't think that Mitt Romney will lose the election -- if only because I always bet on the Republican. Besides, things are more volatile than you may believe. A couple of weeks ago, Todd Akin in MO and Elizabeth Warren in MA both looked like sure losers. Now Akin is tied and Warren is ahead.
That said, everyone (even Peggy Noonan
) agrees that Romney is in trouble, even though he should be miles ahead of Obama right now, given this rather dispiriting presidency. So why is Mitt flailing?
The classic rule of American presidential politics is that you appeal to the base in the primaries and you go centrist in the general. That's what the "Etch-A-Sketch" remark meant. But Romney can't go there because the Republican base -- the tea partiers -- are restless. They never particularly liked Romney, and they stand ready to rebel against the GOP leadership.
Unfortunately for the Republicans, movement conservatives have come to a very wrongheaded conclusion about this race. They will never admit that Mitt should head to the center. They want him to appeal to the kind of people who consider Glenn Beck a deep thinker. But that strategy can only increase turnout in the red states, which won't win the election.
There's a Woody Allen movie in which a character says : "I bet you think I'm paranoid." Woody responds: "No, I think you're the opposite of paranoid. You operate under the delusion that people like
The teabaggers have fallen prey to that very delusion. They do not understand -- and cannot be made to understand, even if shown charts and graphs -- that they are unpopular.
If you're in the hardcore, fire-breathing, Malkin-reading, Breitbart-worshipping conservative base, all of your friends probably think as you think. That's your world. You cannot allow yourself to believe that more than 50 percent of the country has a differing point of view.
(Something similar happens among the very liberal, of course.)
Since the baggers cannot bring themselves to admit that they are unliked, they console themselves with the delusion that Team Romney (like Team McCain before it) has been too nice
. They think Romney's attack ads have been wimpy. They want Romney's people to paint Obama as a Socialist Kenyan atheist Marxist Satanic rage-filled babykilling black Muslim militant.
Josh Marshall addresses that misperception:
Campaigns, particularly Republican campaigns, don’t hold off on promising tactics because they’re concerned about being nice. But every gambit that intensifies your hold on your most energized supporters threatens your grasp on less aggrieved and angry people you also want to hold in your column. John McCain didn’t go easy on Rev. Wright because he was just above going full-crazy. It reached a point of diminishing returns. Actually, it got to negative returns as it creeped up into race-baiting and xenophobic territory.
Same with Mitt Romney. Yes, he could get 30% of the electorate to froth at the mouth more than they already will when they vote for him by going full culture war, Obama’s a subversive alien. But most people in the country don’t like that stuff. They’ve heard it for four years and making it the basis of the Romney campaign will only turn them off Mitt Romney.