The New Yorker warms the hearts of Republicans everywhere by asking a question no true-blue liberal Democrat wants to even contemplate: can Mitt Romney really beat Obama?
In my neck of artisanal, hormone-free Brooklyn, the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, which shows Mitt Scissorhands leading “The First Gay President” by three points, landed with a nasty thud. “I can’t believe he might lose,” my wife said when she spotted the offending numbers on the Web. “People are really willing to vote for Mitt Romney? They hate Obama so much they’d vote for Romney?”
Evidently so—not that you’d know it from a casual read of the print edition of today’s Times. The editors buried the lead in the fifteenth paragraph of a down-page story on A17. (I’ve got a helpful suggestion: if Romney’s ahead in next month’s poll, maybe it could go in the Metro section—the one that no longer exists.) Not surprisingly, conservative news sites made rather more of the story. Under the headline “Kaboom: Romney Leads Obama by 3 in New CBS/NYT Poll,” Guy Benson, the political editor of Townhall.com, pointed out several other noteworthy findings [i]n the survey, including the facts that Romney leads Obama by two points among women (so much for the gender gap) and seven points among independents. Two thirds of the survey’s respondents said the economy was in “very bad” or “fairly bad” shape, and Obama’s favorability rating is still stuck in the mid-forties—at forty-five per cent, to be exact.
Now, the piece does explain why Romney still has a long way to go to win, but the fact that The New Yorker is running a piece worrying about Obama’s electoral chances is in itself telling.
But there’s even more interesting data. Wisconsin was a state that Obama won handily in 2008 and Kerry very narrowly won in 2004. Wisconsin hasn’t really been on the radar as a swing state – but a poll commissioned by the ultra-liberal ghouls at the Daily Kos finds that Obama is leading Romney by only a single point in the Badger State. That result is somewhat shocking, but perhaps less so when you consider that the unions have spent tens of millions to recall Gov. Scott Walker and that same poll shows Walker beating his Democratic opponent by a 4%. Wisconsin is a state where Romney might have a chance, especially given massive voter fatigue on the left.
And there’s gay marriage. While it wasn’t clear whether the gay marriage issue would hurt or help Obama, the polls show that it’s hurting him. As The New Yorker piece mentions, a supermajority of voters think that Obama’s sudden “evolution” on gay marriage was little more than a political stunt. More people dislike Obama’s newfound old position on gay marriage than like it. And North Carolina, the site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention and a potential swing state, is starting to look redder and redder. None of this news is fatal to Obama’s reelection chances, but the slow drip of bad news for his campaign, combined with the Obama campaign’s relatively ham-fisted attempts to shape the narrative suggest that 2012 will not look much like 2008.
Behold, A God Who Bleeds!
This is all starting to remind me of a classic Star Trek episode (as many things often do). In that episode, Captain Kirk’s memory is wiped and he ends up being treated as a god by the local Native American stereotype aliens. One jealous alien manages to cut his hand, and exclaims, “Behold, a god who bleeds!” The same thing is happening here: during 2008 Obama was the epitome of cool, a demi-god in American politics with a following that bordered on a cult of personality.
Today is much different. Obama is just another politician. The American people don’t buy his gay marriage conversion. Obama has a record now, and cannot be what he was in 2008: a blank slate upon which voters could project their hopes and dreams. Instead, Obama has to run on what he’s actually done: and Americans are not feeling the “hope and change” any longer.
That’s the problem with being a cool cipher – the minute you start losing your mystique, the game is over. The same quasi-messianic messaging that worked so well for Obama in 2008 will not work for him in 2012—now it just comes off as creepy. The American people are seeing an increasingly whiny President who is running a tight race against someone who is ostensibly a weak candidate and saying “Behold, a god who bleeds!”
But Romney Has To Define Himself
But don’t count Obama out or Romney in. The American people have soured on President Obama to be sure, but that doesn’t mean that Romney is in the clear. He still has to define himself, and Romney has thus far failed to do so. Voters know that they don’t like Obama, but just that is not necessarily going to be enough for Romney to pull ahead. Voters need to have a clear answer to the question “who is Mitt Romney?”
This is Romney’s Achilles heel—he does not have the “common touch” of someone like Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. He’s hard to relate to on a human level because he doesn’t open himself up in the way that other politicians do. But to win national election, Romney has to define himself as a person. He doesn’t have to be the guy you have beers with, but he has to be someone who voters can trust and relate to. Ann Romney has helped humanize her husband, but Gov. Romney can’t rely on surrogates to make that connection.
The Obama campaign is already running ads trying to define Romney to voters—if Romney can’t define himself first, he’s going to have a lot of trouble winning in the key states he needs to win.
One thing is certain, however: if the Democrats are thinking this will be another 2008, they’re wrong. The political environment has changed, and it has not changed in a way that benefits President Obama.