In the last few days, while Barack Obama’s been doing everything absolutely right, life hasn’t been too kind to Mitt Romney. I mean, when an act of God blows a hole in the heart of your political raison d’etre a week before the biggest election of your life, that’s just gotta hurt. Then Chrysler and GM began firing dum-dums into his ass for his whoppers about the auto industry. His “storm relief drive”, naturally, turned out to be yet another unconscionable political stunt. And perhaps worst of all for Mitt, Tea Party favorite Chris Christie has spent the last few days telling everyone in the world, including Fox News, what a wonderful dude this Obama guy is. And who does Romney have in his corner? Only the disgraced Bush apparatchik Michael Brown, who called in from his leper colony to accuse Obama of moving too quickly on Sandy.
With Obama politically restrained from tackling real issues like climate change, the flow of guns to Mexico or the totally insane War on Drugs and Romney refusing to make a single coherent argument, both sides hunkered down into “Anybody but him” mode, making this election the flukiest one I can recall—the one least driven by concrete policy positions or planned campaign developments. The 47% tape, Obama’s narcotized debate appearance, the comments about rape by some down-ballot GOP Neanderthals, the Benghazi debacle, Superstorm Sandy—these are the things that have driven the polls the last couple months, and they all caught the campaigns by surprise.
The first debate exposed how soft Obama’s support was outside of likely-to-vote Democrats, but the swarm toward Romney slowed, then halted, as people got close enough to get a good whiff of him.* Now the wind is blowing back into Mitt’s face again. Behind in the polls—not by much, but by what’s starting to look like enough—his headlines, just when he needs them most, are being eaten up by Sandy, the denunciations from the automakers, and Obama endorsements from Colin Powell and, suddenly, Michael Bloomberg. An old debate tape is making the rounds, with Romney saying that he wants to defund FEMA and turn its duties over to the states or the private sector, an idea which sounds pretty groovy until you wonder how the Gulf Coast states would be faring today if they’d had to deal with the tab from Katrina on their lonesome. A child could figure out that a single agency with a big kitty and deep technical expertise is a more cost-effective way to go than having fifty agencies, each of them definitionally deficient, and all doing the same job, but badly.
Of course there’s no way the rightwingers will temper their crazy-ass view of the world if Obama wins—they enjoy their outrage too much. And really, why should they moderate themselves when they’re this close to unseating an incumbent using what the spokesman for General Motors called “campaign politics at its cynical worst”? Even if he loses, Romney will have proven some valuable lessons. For one thing, candidates no longer have to submit themselves to such old-fashioned purity tests as releasing their tax returns, no matter how fishy the circumstances. More importantly, a candidate can build his entire campaign on transparent lies—he can even admit he’s shaking the Etch-a-Sketch again and again—and do so without paying a price for it. Well, baby, that’s the final frontier. Not even Nixon dreamed of this day ever coming.
If Obama hangs on and wins the election, they’ll blame him first, of course, because, hey, he’s Obama, so “Ugh” right there. But his name will be closely followed by Candy Crowley’s, and then Stuart Stevens, Chris Christie**, Romney himself, Gary Johnson, those bitches on The View, and, if there’s any spit left over, Lena Dunham. (If they’re smart, they’ll save a spot for John Roberts.) Of course if Obama loses the election, it won’t be hard to figure out why. It’ll be a sad day, but I can think of at least one silver lining: we’ll no longer need to keep asking the question—“Does the American voter have any pride in himself?”—which we’ve been asking since 1980. Finally, we’ll have an answer for sure.
* However, some people are going to see what they want to see, no matter what the reality. From a story in this morning’s New York Times: “Sitting in the audience, Carla Dickard, 61, said she was drawn to Mr. Romney’s put-down-the-pitchforks message. ‘It wasn’t always like this, everyone so divided like they are,’ she said. Ms. Dickard views Mr. Obama as overly partisan, setting off the birth of the Tea Party. Mr. Romney, by contrast, she said, ‘seems to understand that we won’t get anything done unless we work together.’”
** What goes on between Christie and the GOP/Tea Party should be plenty interesting to watch the next few months, especially if Obama wins. Ted Nugent might even shoot him instead of Obama; God knows he’d be easier to hit.