This is a very
premature political obituary for Der Mittster, since (perversely) I'm still betting that he'll win -- if only because I always bet on the Republican. That said, the polls have turned against him, slightly but decisively, in these final days of the campaign: See here
Romney may well lose -- and if he wins, it will be by the thinnest of margins. This, despite the fact that Obama went into this election cycle with very little going for him. The President's own base grumbled about the need for a primary challenge.
So what happened?
A lot of people will blame the GOP candidate. Multi-faced Mitt irritates many within his own party -- as they will quickly admit the day after the election, though they won't admit it now.
But the real problem, methinks, is the party brand itself. Consider this graph from Pew, displaying trends in party identification:
The chart tells us much. First and foremost, we should understand that the "green line" includes a lot of people who vote conservative, because self-proclaimed conservatives outnumber liberals in this country. Yet many right-leaning voters do not embrace the Republican label. Why not?
The only time in recent history when Republicans outnumbered Dems was in 1994-95. That was the era of "conspiracy chic," when an anti-Clinton agit-prop campaign led to a rout of congressional Democrats. But the Oklahoma City bombing, the government shutdown and the increasingly ludicrous jihad against Clinton -- culminating in the Monica Lewinski debacle -- caused the Republican brand to lose its appeal.
The brand became attractive once more in the wake of 9/11, only to plummet again when the Iraq war went sour. Today, only a quarter of the American population feels proud to announce: "I am a Republican."
If a Republican candidate wishes to win the presidential primaries, he has to operate within that small world, even though a message designed to appeal to 25 percent of electorate may repulse the other 75 percent. In a sense, Mitt Romney had to be multi-faced. These days, there's no other way to get the gig.
The question is: Why has the Republican brand lost its appeal? Why do so many conservative voters prefer to call themselves independents?
The answer is simple. Republicans are scary.
To prove the point, we need only mention Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, two names which instantly transport us into a diseased world-view. One could just as easily reference Michele Bachmann or Glenn Beck or Sharron Angle or Sarah Palin or Donald Trump or Orly Taitz or Christine O'Donnell or...well, you can continue the list yourself.
These people are repellent. Normal conservatives don't want to say "I'm with them" while pointing at a room full of weirdos like Sharron Angle and Glenn Beck.
As of September, Romney was losing handily because he was with them. The American people weren't happy with Obama -- but neither did they want someone whose friends were all fruitcakes.
During that first debate, Romney convinced the nation: "No, I'm not with them. I'm a moderate." The moment he adopted that stance, he started winning.
His difficulties in maintaining a lead do not, I think, derive from anything Obama has said or done, or from anything Romney has said or done. Mitt was backstabbed by his own cheerleaders. The Republicans have been behaving in an ultra-nutty fashion these past few weeks, spewing one bizarre conspiracy theory after another -- theories about Benghazi, "unskewed polls," Hurricane Sandy and now Chris Christie.
Normal people have had it with that nonsense.
But Republican leaders -- and Roger Ailes -- have become so enmeshed in that worldview that they keep foisting more paranoia, more weirdness, more hate, more Islamophobia, more superstition, more hyperbolic partisanship on the public. They keep performing the same tricks even when the tricks no longer work. They remain psychologically wedded to the belief that the kind of extremist agit-prop campaign that worked so well in 1994-95 will continue to do magic things for the Republican brand name.
To make that brand name attractive once more, Republicans should have distanced themselves from Dubya's legacy. In particular, they needed to denounce the invasion of Iraq -- and to do so in no uncertain terms. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan should have said: "It was all a huge mistake. We will never make that error again. George W. Bush was the worst thing ever to happen to our party."
I don't agree with Ron Paul's dictum that "the peace candidate always wins." But the peace candidate will win in 2012. People are sick of war. Despite a propaganda campaign designed to convince them otherwise, most Americans understand that war spending created most of our debt. If Romney had found a way to run as the peace candidate in this election -- if, for example, he had denounced the drone wars and the escalation in Afghanistan -- he would have 300 electoral votes under his belt right now.
People are saying that George Lucas may have rescued the Star Wars franchise by, in essence, firing himself. Perhaps Republican propaganda would be more effective if the GOP "fired" Roger Ailes -- and all the other right-wing propagandists who tolerate no strategy other than doubling down on Crazy.