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Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Romney Plays Better to Ordinary Americans than the Political Class Realizes

Mitt Romney's so-called gaffes sound like leadership and simple truth to many Americans who hunger for both. With the debate season upon us, and dire, mostly self-serving media prophecies notwithstanding, Romney is poised to win in November.

There's still hope for a Mitt Romney victory in November. There's more than hope. Republicans and conservatives should be optimistic and encouraged, not fretful and morose.

Since I last blogged, far too long ago, the Republicans had a pretty good convention. They demonstrated to those with eyes to see and ears to ear that Mitt Romney is human. Indeed, Mitt Romney is an exceptional, generous human, as the convention did a fair-to-middlin' job of showing us. It did a better job of showcasing the superb women of the Republican Party, whom we are quite comfortable and accustomed to seeing in offices such as governor and Secretary of State.

The Democrats had their convention, too. They booed God and gave standing ovations to same-sex marriage, federally subsidized abortion, and free birth control for everyone. It wasn't all about the trappings of socialized sexual freedom, though. For example, there was a wacked-out Democratic governor who indicted the Republican Party as the bunch who wants all the goodies but never wants to pay for them. There was Sandra Fluke's speech, which I watched; she's the poster child for the whole pathetic, self-congratulatory spectacle. And there was a relatively moderate presidential acceptance speech which didn't even thrill the Big Media Acronyms (BMA). Overall, the shrill theme of the event seemed to be that Republicans want all women to die, as young as and painfully as possible. (Presumably, this includes all Republican men who love women, which is most of them, and all Republican women, too, and all Republicans of either gender who have daughters, sisters, granddaughters, or mothers. No, presidential politics does not have to make sense.)

It was after Ann Romney's mediocre convention speech -- which had a few fine moments -- that I began to tell people that there is a crucial disconnect in both campaigns at this point. The insiders -- the delegates of both parties and the BMA among them -- have only a vague idea, if any at all, how differently the candidates are sounding to them than to the American people at large. I think some on the Democratic side have at least a nagging sense of foreboding over this, but they seem powerless to keep Obama from making his own situation worse.

Let's start with the small stuff. I heard and read for over a month how bizarre, inappropriate, inscrutable, and out of touch Clint Eastwood was in his Republican convention monologue, in which he carried on a conversation with an empty chair as it if were President Obama. Finally, several weeks later, I decided I had ten minutes to spend watching the supposed debacle. I am not a Clint Eastwood fan, and I never have been. I am also more attuned to politics on an ongoing basis than most of the people the presidential campaigns need to be reaching at this point. For all that, I still didn't find Eastwood's work that night to be bizarre, inappropriate, inscrutable, or out of touch. I thought he was on point and provided fairly good -- not to mention scathing -- comic relief. I'd have preferred him to say, "We are this country," instead of "We own this country." But "politicians are employees of ours"? I'm on board with that. As a clue that Eastwood wasn't really on another planet, social networks here on Earth were abuzz a few days later, on (Organized) Labor Day, for "Empty Chair Day," apparently a grass-roots movement, which yielded lots of photos of empty chairs in odd places and positions, mocking President Obama.

Apart from the good, mostly clean political fun of it all, there is this: The edge on the blade of Empty Chair Day -- did I just mix metaphors? -- is provided by the First Golfer's frequent absence from his own White House intelligence briefings and his chronic absence from his own top-level commission on jobs.

But on to the big stuff.

September 11 brought anti-American violence in Libya, Egypt, and about 19 other countries. The administration apologized, then distanced itself from its apologies, then apologized again, then apologized for its apologies. Even before we found out there was a rather inept White House cover-up in progress over Libya, we heard Mitt Romney sounding presidential. He immediately called the White House's fawning, apologetic response to the killing of a US ambassador "disgraceful," among other things. In fact, let me put that a little more concisely: Romney stepped into a vacuum and sounded presidential. I think people noticed the vacuum, not just the presidential mien.

In return, the Democrat/media machine turned viciously on the enemy -- not Libya or Egypt, not the Muslim Brotherhood or al Qaeda, but Mitt Romney. The BMA spun as hard as they could, for as long as they could. Like some of those inconvenient truths Romney uttered in Poland and Israel this summer, this was called a serious Romney "gaffe." For days I read headlines like these (collected from RealClearPolitics):

  • Romney's Opportunistic, Incoherent Attack
  • Romney's Major Meltdown
  • Romney's in Trouble, Election Slipping Away
  • Death Knell for the Romney Campaign
  • Romney's Rushed and Dangerous Bluster
  • Romney Kneejerks into Colossal Blunder

Maybe the talking heads really believe that Romney's response makes him unelectable, but we already knew they don't want to elect him. One suspects that their desperation in spinning this Reaganesque Romney moment comes from their realization, instinctive or otherwise, that most Americans see things differently. We don't need Romney to tell us that killing our ambassador is an act of war, or that heavily-armed mobs don't attack a consulate in a spontaneous rejection of an obscure anti-Muslim film by an obscure American filmmaker, or that wise -- or even sane -- American leaders don't make the centerpiece of their response to such things an official apology to the barbarians. But we welcome someone pointing it out, and we wish it could have been our president.

A week later, we got the probably-illegal, secret video from a Romney fundraiser months ago, in which he says that 47 percent of Americans are dependent on the federal government for their support, and that he can't afford to spend a lot of time or effort worrying about winning their votes. Cue the same declarations about Romney's campaign being over; here are several collected by Jack Kelly in his recent column, "Romney's nine lives: Media can't kill Mitt":

  • Diane Sawyer (ABC): "a political earthquake"
  • Piers Morgan (CNN): "Very, very damaging. A monumental gaffe."
  • Josh Barro (Bloomberg): "Today, Mitt Romney lost the election."

True, Romney should know by now (or even several months ago) that the microphone is always on when you're in politics. True, he fumbled his point a bit. Ronald Reagan was a lot better at this business of telling the truth clearly and irresistibly, to the horror of the media and the rest of the Beltway crowd, and to the appreciation of Americans at large. Reagan had decades more practice at it. But Romney doesn't have to win in a Reaganesque landslide. He just has to win by a large enough margin in enough key states to push the election beyond the frightening prospect of being turned by large-scale voter fraud or endless litigation.

It was only a week or so after this next supposedly campaign-ending "gaffe" that we began to see polls telling us that two-thirds, not just 53 percent, of Americans agree with Romney that 47 percent dependency is a serious problem.

Meanwhile, we've seen a lot of Republicans -- more than usual -- holding forth about disarray and other troubles in the Romney campaign, and prescribing one radical change or another. Even Peggy Noonan jumped on the bandwagon. I hope you weren't too worried by all the hand-wringing. It happens every election cycle, whether a campaign is going well or not. And to a degree, every campaign really should step back at about this point -- post-convention and pre-debate -- calmly reassess itself and the lay of the land, and adjust its course as necessary. Every campaign worries that it needs a lot more change than it can make, late in the game. And every campaign is vulnerable to the tempation to change too much and break what's actually working.

Here's the thing: It's not just wishful thinking, when I suggest that most people outside the Beltway (figuratively and literally) have a different view of the world and of the United States' place in it, and a fairly clear idea what leadership looks like, and that they hear Romney's and Obama's voices much differently. The real evidence will come on Election Day. In the meantime, after all those alleged campaign-ending gaffes, Romney has pulled back into a dead heat with Obama in the polls -- even though the polls themselves are widely understood to be skewed to the left by at least several points. Why isn't he down by 10 or 15 points or more?

I could be wrong, and the election is still a month away, with four debates, infinitely many attack ads, and other adventures yet to come. But to me this is still playing out as a minor Romney landslide.

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