As Mitt Romney’s poll numbers keep sagging, the 1980 election has become a kind of magical talisman for Republicans desperately seeking reasons to hope for a miraculous comeback win on November 6. (So has "poll-denial," the new birtherism; see Daily Meme, below.) In the summer, Rush Limbaugh helped revive the old legend of the Reagan Miracle. “I want to remind you of some history,” he told his listeners. “In June of 1980, Jimmy Carter led Ronaldus Magnus 39 to 32.” As summer 2012 turned to fall, and Romney swooned in the polls, a new reference point was discovered.
Even for the flintiest of liberals, it was hard to watch the sad spectacle of Mitt Romney yesterday, after touching down for a rally in Dayton, Ohio, and not feel a little sad for the guy. Here was a beaten-up (and self-harmed) candidate coming off two catastrophic weeks, his poll numbers tanking in key battleground states, now forced to team up with his number two, Paul Ryan, because the campaign reportedly felt the ticket-topper wasn’t generating enough “excitement” on his own.
Around this time in 2004, liberals were panicking. The Democratic nominee for president, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, was lagging behind George W. Bush, who appeared to be on his way to a second term. This was baffling, and not in a Pauline Kael kind of way. It wasn’t so much that liberals couldn’t imagine the person who would vote Bush—at the time, it wasn’t hard to find a Bush voter—but that conditions were terrible, and it was a stretch to believe that America would re-elect a president who brought the country into two messy wars and the most sluggish economy since WWII.
Yesterday, surveying the Romney ruins in the aftermath of the Libya fiasco and the 47 percent flap, Nick Gillespie at Reason led his post by declaring, “President Barack Obama is one lucky bastard.” In a very narrow sense, he’s right: Obama has certainly been fortunate to draw two general-election opponents whose political savvy is no match for his. He was lucky in 2004, too, to end up running for U.S. Senate against the unhinged Alan Keyes. But these are the strokes of happy fortune—and propitious timing—that any politician needs to ascend to White House heights.