Bobby Jindal might say that the GOP needs to stop being the "stupid party," and Eric Cantor might call for a new agenda that helps ordinary Americans, but the fact of the matter is that the Republican Party hasn't changed much since November, when it failed to capture the White House or make gains in Congress.
Listening to the crude, discursive monologues on Rush Limbaugh’s daily three-hour radio program, which I have had occasion to do for a living, is a test of endurance for a person with minimum standards of decency. It’s a bit like being blown out of an airlock into the vacuum of space without a spacesuit. You can hold out for only so long before your lungs rupture and air bubbles perforate your brain. You lose consciousness just as your saliva starts to boil.
At a certain point, it’s a little boring to say that Mitt Romney is suffering in the polls. But here we are, and Mitt Romney is still losing support nationwide. As always, the Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls show a much tighter race than the larger surveys commissioned by media outlets. Bloomberg has President Barack Obama up six among likely voters, compared to the tie registered by Rasmussen. Gallup also has Obama ahead by six, but this is among registered voters; his margin is certain to narrow once Gallup screens for likely voters.
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.
I wrote yesterday that President Obama is building a solid margin over Governor Romney in the state. The picture is similar in Ohio—where Obama has led in every poll since the Democratic National Convention—and Nevada, where he's led in almost every survey since the beginning of the year. Tuesday's polls reinforced both trends, and highlighted the extent to which Romney is on something of a downwards trajectory.
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.
Mitt Romney seems to have decided to run an entire presidential campaign on quibbling semantic arguments, which is certainly a novel approach, but not one I'd recommend for future candidates. It's not that every campaign doesn't spend way too much time complaining about the words their opponent says, but he really has taken it to a totally different level; every day seems to bring a new expression of feigned outrage at something Barack Obama said.
Over at MSNBC's "Lean Forward" blog, I have a new piece about one of these inane back-and-forths that happened last week, when Obama said he learned you couldn't change Washington from the inside, and Romney got really peeved and promised he would change it from the inside. My point was essentially that if I hear one more pundit talk about the good old days when Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill would argue during the day, then in the evening share a beer and bellow some old Irish sea shanties, I think I'm going to lose it:
By all accounts, this was the Republicans’ election to win: an economy stuck at a level insufficient to generate enough jobs or income gains; a somewhat disillusioned Democratic base; and a stunted generation of young adults who supported Barack Obama last time by a margin of 71-29 and are unlikely to do it again.
Yet Obama’s lead keeps widening. It’s worth unpacking why.
The most obvious reason, of course, is the sheer clumsiness of Mitt Romney, God’s gift to the Democrats. If a computer had been asked to generate a candidate guaranteed to alienate independents and divide his own base, it could not have done better.
There are few deeper ironies than to hear campaign reporters complaining that candidates are not being substantive and detailed enough, and it seems that they now may be turning their wagging finger toward both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Don't get me wrong—I'm all for substance, and there are some kinds of vagueness that have to be confronted. For instance, the fact that Romney says he can cut taxes but keep things revenue neutral by also cutting loopholes, yet steadfastly refuses to say which loopholes he'll eliminate, is just absurd and should be called out. Yet if he came out tomorrow with a dozen new lengthy policy papers, would the campaign reporters on his bus stay up late studying them so they could produce one policy-dense analysis after another? No, they wouldn't. Just as candidates often want to seem substantive without actually being substantive, the reporters want to judge substance without having to actually examine substance.
Mitt Romney has a few paths to victory, some more likely than others. He could repeat George W. Bush’s performance in 2004 and carry the White House with wins in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and Ohio. He could cede Virginia to Obama and take Colorado and New Hampshire. He could give up Colorado and New Hampshire but win Wisconsin and the single electoral vote in Omaha, Nebraska. He could lose Ohio and make up for it with Virginia, Colorado, and Wisconsin.
Conservatives who cheered Mitt Romney's selection of Representative Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, as his running mate in the hope this indicated a more aggressive, more conservative stance for Romney have been sorely disappointed. They had expected Ryan's bold style to rub off on Romney. Instead, it is the other way: Ryan has become muted and vague, like Romney. The problem is certainly not Ryan. All vice-presidential candidates know who is the boss and Ryan is surely doing precisely what his boss wants: looking sharp but be vague about all the details.
In the six weeks since he was tapped, Ryan hasn't given a single national press conference, although he has done interviews for local media outlets—which typically don't push the interviewee very hard. His stump speech rarely mentions his plan to replace Medicare with a voucher system. Instead, he attacks President Obama and plays up his bow hunting abilities and working-class background. None of this is the red meat conservatives had expected, but one see's Team Romney's fingerprints all over it. The one time he did talk about Medicare, at the annual AARP convention, he was roundly booed. To make things even worse, he was supposed to put Wisconsin in play, but our current average of six recent polls gives Obama a lead there of 51 pecent to 45 percent.
As often as not, parties nominate candidates for president that pretty much all their own partisans acknowledge are less than inspiring. Democrats were so excited about Barack Obama in 2008 partly because their previous two nominees, John Kerry and Al Gore, rode to the nomination on a stirring sentiment of "Well, OK, I guess." The same happened to Republicans, who adored the easygoing George W. Bush after the grim candidacies of Bob Dole and Bush's father.