In the last week or so, conventional wisdom has begun to settle on the possibility of an Electoral College/popular vote split. The situation is straightforward: Thanks to a persistent lead in Ohio, Obama ekes out a victory in the Electoral College, but Romney wins a bare majority of the popular vote.
I’ve written before about the Romney campaign’s odd insistence on using Bill Clinton as a de facto spokesperson. Every so often, Team Romney highlights a comment by Clinton as a critique of President Obama, as if Clinton wasn’t an avowed and enthusiastic supporter of the president. The rationale, I suppose, is to be able to claim bipartisan discontent with Obama. The problem is that this does nothing more but boost Clinton’s credibility by turning him into a nonpartisan figure of repute. And as we saw during the Democratic National Convention, he can use this “referee” status to effectively hammer Mitt Romney and the Republican Party.
Yesterday, I did an online debate with Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights, for New York magazine. We went through a wide range of topics, but one thing we stuck on—for a while—was the issue of Mitt Romney’s political commitments. Bissinger refused to believe that Romney is the conservative he’s campaigned as for the last 18 months, and he insisted Romney would be more moderate than he’s appeared if elected president. Here’s the nut of his argument:
[T]ake a look at Romney’s record as Mass governor. He was not some crazoid conservative. He crossed party lines. He provided the template for Obamacare, for God’s sake.
Mitt Romney’s entire presidential campaign is premised on the idea that—as a former businessman—he is best qualified to fix the economy. It went unnoticed, but while talking tax reform, President Obama pushed against that with an effective attack on the shaky numbers behind Romney’s tax plan:
Now, Governor Romney was a very successful investor. If somebody came to you, Governor, with a plan that said, here, I want to spend $7 or $8 trillion, and then we’re going to pay for it, but we can’t tell you until maybe after the election how we’re going to do it, you wouldn’t take such a sketchy deal and neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn’t add up.
Mitt Romney is no stranger to shifting positions on reproductive rights, but even for him, his latest move is audacious. In an ad released today, he simply denies that he’s ever held conservative positions on contraception and abortion:
If you can’t watch videos, here’s what the narrator says:
“You know, those ads saying Mitt Romney would ban all abortions and contraceptions seemed a bit extreme, so I looked into it. Turns out, Romney doesn’t oppose contraception at all. In fact, he thinks abortion should be an option in cases of rape, incest, and to save a mother’s life.”
What made the first presidential debate so shocking—and what sent liberals into complete panic—was the fact that, for the first time in four years, President Obama had to face an equal—and he didn’t seem to know how to respond. He looked less like the president, and more like another politician, who might not be ready for another four years on the job.
Ahead of tonight’s town hall debate, the Obama campaign has released a direct-to-camera video featuring Bill Clinton, who—as president—thrived in town hall-style environments. The video, which is meant to clarify the issues around Mitt Romney’s tax plan, is a partial restatement of Clinton’s acclaimed speech at the Democratic National Convention.
Writing for CNN, Peter Hamby reports that Team Romney will move to deficit and debt as its theme for this week. Part of that includes a set of talking points on how President Obama has added trillions to the debt, and will add trillions more if he isn’t removed from office. To wit:
President Obama has racked up more than $5.5 trillion in debt over the past four years, putting our national debt above $16 trillion—and in a second term he’ll let it climb to $20 trillion.
He also broke his promise to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term, instead presiding over four straight trillion-dollar deficits.
Since August, when Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, the two campaigns have fought a fierce battle over who is the most stalwart protector of Medicare. In the first presidential debate, Romney assailed President Obama for his $716 billion in Medicare cuts, and Ryan did the same in last week’s vice presidential face-off. Likewise, the Obama campaign has hit Team Romney for the Ryan plan and its Medicare “premium support”—which, if implemented, would gradually replace traditional Medicare with subsidized, regulated private insurance.
“This is like the Avengers, when the Hulk grabbed Loki and smashed him on the floor.”
I watched this debate in Chesapeake, Virginia, with a group of local Democrats, and it’s fair to say that they were excited by Vice President Biden’s performance in tonight’s debate. They cheered his jabs—“This is malarkey”—and cheered when he directly attacked Paul Ryan for his rhetoric.
In other words, if Biden’s job was to cover for President Obama and rebuild Democratic enthusiasm, then he accomplished it with flying colors. From foreign policy to Medicare to taxes and national security, Biden defended the administration’s policies and offered a strong retort to claims from Paul Ryan and the Romney campaign.
If there’s any one issue that is emblematic of Mitt Romney’s core malleability, it’s abortion. Over the last 16 years, Romney has called himself “unequivocablly pro-choice,” pro-life (but unwilling to change the status quo), “delighted” to sign a national abortion ban, eager to extend the 14th Amendment to unborn children, and willing to turn abortion over to the states. Yesterday, Romney made another transformation: In an interview, he told the Des Moines Register, “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”
The least interesting part of the latest Gallup poll is the fact that it shows Mitt Romney with a 2-point lead over President Obama among likely voters, 49 percent to 47 percent. Given the extent to which Gallup has shown a close race through most of the year, this was expected. What’s more interesting is the evidence, buried in the article, that Romney’s post-debate bounce was short-lived and is subsiding. Here’s the full range of post-debate polls among registered voters:
For my part, the most incredible exchange of the first presidential debate came in the first 20 minutes, when President Obama hit Mitt Romney on his tax plan—which would implement across-the-board cuts to marginal rates—and the Republican nominee responded by denying its existence. Romney insisted that his plan would not cut upper-income taxes (it calls for a 20 percent reduction) and, in fact, would end breaks for upper-income taxpayers (he has yet to give any detail on this score).
The Pew Research Center has near-impeccable credentials with its polls, which is why yesterday’s—which showed Mitt Romney ahead by four points among likely voters—inspired mass panic among supporters of President Obama. Andrew Sullivan was at the forefront of the freakout. In a post titled “Did Obama just throw the election away?”, he excoriated Obama’s lackluster debate performance: