Thursday, November 1, 2012

Blaming Sandy Would Be Great

A lot of speculation out there now that if Mitt Romney loses, Republicans will blame Sandy for the loss. Momentum was going Romney's way all through October, but the storm shut down the normal campaign and Barack Obama squeaked through with a win.

If that's what they'll say: that's good news!

Here's the thing. If Romney loses, we can guarantee one thing: Republicans will not interpret it as confirmation that the American people prefer the Democrats' ideas to their ideas (for which they would be correct, by the way; that's not how elections work). Nor will they interpret it as mainly a function of the likely effects of a (slowly) recovering economy, a nation moving (slowly) from unpopular wars to something closer to peace, and an incumbent president seeking re-election just one term after a very unpopular Republican was in the White House. That's actually an interpretation which fits the evidence, but political actors tend not to be very good at accepting that sort of (close to) determinism, and that's not only understandable, but probably a pretty good thing.

No, if Romney loses, Republicans will naturally be drawn to more simple explanations of why it shouldn't count. That's what most of us tend to do when our side loses.

The hope, however, is that the explanations that parties believe would be relatively constructive, or at least not particularly poisonous. The latter, alas, is common. It includes most of what Marc Ambinder speculates Republicans will say -- that the liberal media is out to get them, that the Republicans are far too moderate, and that they "really" won but voter fraud stole the election. Remember, lots of Republicans told pollsters they believed that voter fraud elected Obama in 2008, when it wasn't remotely plausible; we should expect a lot more of that if the polls are correct and it's a close result this time.

By contrast, thinking they were on their way to victory when a massive storm derailed them would be a relatively healthy response, the way that deciding that you lost because your candidate's TV ads stunk or because he didn't have the best zinger in the debates is a mostly non-destructive response.

The truth is that Republicans do have some real problems right now, and they would be wise to try to do something about them (even if those problems aren't large enough to prevent them from ever winning nationally). But it's rare for a party to react to defeat by quickly and accurately diagnosing everything wrong with their side and then rapidly changing it. So that's too much to ask. All I'd hope for is that they avoid eroding the basic structures of US democracy, by (for example) undermining people's confidence that elections are honest. If that's what they use Sandy for, I'm not going to complain.

36 comments:

  1. How will Sandy's disruption of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of voters' lives this week, affect their turnout on Tuesday? Jennifer Granholm suggested there will be big drop in turnout based on the record of past disasters. A lot of folks along the eastern seaboard are Democrats.

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  2. What about the contrary? What will Democrats blame if they lose, and will it be healthy or unhealthy?

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    1. That's a good question! We would probably turn to the usual Democratic boogeymen, like Fox News, talk radio, Karl Rove, or the Koch Brothers. Some will say we should have ditched Obama for Hillary, or found a new running mate instead of Biden. I think those would be examples of unhealthy responses.

      Democrats also have a "Sandy" argument, that the hurricane will lower voter turnout. They could also blame Voter ID laws. Plus, Romney's "win" in the first debate. None of which are necessarily true, but would fit Jonathan's definition of a "healthy" explanation.

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  3. Jonathan, I believe you are right as far as you go. But it is not some sort of collective decision at play.

    I think you are actually describing a sociological pattern that is caused by developing technology. And I believe it will result in the demise of the GOP as a national force.

    The downward spiral has at its center a purging by extreme conservatives of less extreme conservatives. They are reinforced by their easy access to internet and cable messages that form a sort of cocoon against real data from the outside world.

    The real question to me is why this uncontrolled rush to destruction is not part of the moderate left.

    But there seems to be no alternative path for what was once the party of Lincoln. In the end, they will be destroyed by the microchip.

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    1. The real question to me is why this uncontrolled rush to destruction is not part of the moderate left.

      My guess? There are approximately enough leftists in the US to meet in a phone booth and still leave room for the cash bar.

      Their disappearance would leave a pretty small hole -- no one would notice.

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    2. Ooh! Ouch!

      When was the last time you saw a phone booth, old man?

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  4. That sure is some good "Party of personal responsibility", right there!

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  5. Nate Silver currently has Obama having a 79% chance of winning; if you are terrified of Romnerica, then next Tuesday probably feels an awful lot like Russian Roulette to you, since you have an 83% chance of "winning" any instance of Russian Roulette.

    Just out of curiosity: does anyone have an estimate how many Presidential elections didn't have this Russian Roulette quality at 5 days out? '80 and '84 I guess. Maybe '96. A lot of the time the runup does have that Russian Roulette-like quality.

    Which most of us don't like, right? If we thought there was some way, valid or no, to control the spinning of that chamber with the one bullet in it, we probably would give it a try, wouldn't we?

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    1. Hopefully the 538 percentage will be higher than 79 percent (and higher than 83 percent, for that matter), come Tuesday.

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    2. I'd say 2008 was pretty well a foregone conclusion a couple weeks out from election day. ElectoralVote.com had Obama on 357 EV by mid-October, and over 280 in 'safe' Dem states. (Also, too: "maybe" '96? - back when I was Republican I voted for Dole, but that was not remotely a close election.)

      - - - - - - - - - -

      Anon: If the race stayed perfectly static from here on out, the 538 projection will drift modestly toward Obama just because days are coming off the calendar. On election day, the projection and the "nowcast" would finally intersect.

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  6. JB, you seem to be of the opinion (and even if you aren't, I am) that:

    1) The if GOP is a fairly broken party right now.

    and..

    2) We should not expect the fact that the GOP is broken to have much of any effect on whether people will vote for them at the presidential or congressional level.

    True? And if true, as a political scientist, do you find that to be really, really depressing?

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    1. Yes?

      There's a more complicated answer, too. I should probably write a full post about it though.

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    2. "We should not expect the fact that the GOP is broken to have much of any effect on whether people will vote for them at the presidential or congressional level."

      I think there's a fair question that while the GOP voters may remain very loyal to the party, and would for the foreseeable future if the Republicans do not change their views..

      .. but there's also a question of whether the 2016, 2020 national electorates will remain demographically the same as today. As Lindsey Graham put it, 'angry white guys' is not exactly a growth demo. Voter suppression efforts are not a long-term solution.

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  7. Oh good! Precriminations. I've been looking forward to these. :-)

    I'm not so sure they're going to want to rely on the Sandy excuse. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that one, but it has the downside of seeming to validate Romney's flop-flip back to the left beginning with the first debate. How many in the GOP are going to want to admit that Romney was stalled out and probably losing, but then he embraced a bunch of Obama's positions, and that gave him a good chance to win except for a freak storm?

    The all-important thing will be to rescue the right's ideology from the burning wreckage of the Romney campaign. Romney has made that very easy for them, it seems to me. He arrived at the debates suddenly tacking left, deliberately came off like a moderate, talked up his success at getting people government insurance, promised not to lower taxes on the wealthy, repudiated his 47-percent comments, associated himself with government bailouts, endorsed most of Obama's foreign policies, let Candy Crowley buffalo him into dropping the attack over Benghazi, etc. This let Obama back in the game, and Romney predictably went on to lose -- proving again that Republicans can't win unless they keep the faith and draw the sharp contrasts and yadda yadda.

    Granted, this analysis will overlook (1) the right's failure to criticize that approach when it seemed to be working, and (2) the fact that Romney had been losing for months up until then. But #1 will either be forgotten, or we'll suddenly hear from a bunch of righty pundits about how terribly worried they were privately over all these apostasies, albeit without wanting to say so publicly at the time so as not to hurt the nominee. And #2 can easily be explained away: Despite appearances, Romney was on course for the victory that his side assumed was inevitable all along, and in fact was already rising in the polls before Debate 1. What had held him back, temporarily, was just his feckless unwillingness to defend himself -- and the greater cause of plutocracy, tax avoidance and vulture capitalism -- from Obama's vicious and unfair Bain Capital attacks, plus his refusal to unleash Paul Ryan and fully embrace Ryanism. Debate 1 proved how fragile Obama's position really was, and if Romney had shown up there being equally confident and forceful, but in defense of true conservatism instead of the obviously calculated centrism he delivered, he would have taken not only the lead but a commanding position impervious to setbacks like a mere hurricane.

    So the next question then will be, why did Romney fold ideologically in the final month? And the answer to that will be even easier: He was never a true conservative to begin with, just as the right had long suspected. He was completely the wrong choice as a Republican nominee, and the problem going forward is to make sure that Ryan or Rubio is ready to go in '16 so the same thing doesn't happen again, with conservatives forced to choose between settling for a plausible but crypto-leftist candidate like Jeb Bush or splitting their votes among a bunch of lightweights and lunatics. The Jonah Goldberg post on this almost writes itself, doesn't it?

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    1. I am keen to visit any quadrant of the galaxy where Jeb Bush is any kind of leftist, even a 'crypto-leftist'...

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    2. Davis, that of course is not my view, it's the way I think he's seen on the GOP right -- and certainly the way he'll be painted if he's running in primaries against someone like Ryan, Rubio or Rand Paul:

      http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0612/77325.html

      http://robertringer.com/roberts-insights/jeb-bush-comes-out-of-the-closet/

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    3. ". . . or we'll suddenly hear from a bunch of righty pundits about how terribly worried they were privately over all these apostasies, albeit without wanting to say so publicly at the time so as not to hurt the nominee."

      Or they'll suddenly remember that they did say so after all. You just weren't listening.

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    4. Right, Scott, come to think of it, that's more likely.

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  8. Jeff, I'm betting that if R/R goes down, Ryan's presidential ambitions are toast. Richard Nixon may have went on to become a Republican president after losing as a vice-presidential nominee, but I can't think of many since then.

    I'm going to argue that once a person goes national in a non-primary election, enough opposition research is done to have a way of "framing" them to do them in.

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    1. Anon, I hope you're right, but I expect there will still be a lot of buzz on the right around Ryan, regardless of what eventually happens in '16. Sarah Palin was still polling as high as Romney among Republican voters as late as March 2011:

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/26/sarah-palin-mitt-romney-l_n_867513.html

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    2. I think you're BOTH right. Right wingers will LOVE Ryan as a presidential nominee. I bet he gets the nomination with very little trouble at all. But the rest if the country now seems to have had their fill of the extremists. So, Ryan will not fare any better in the general election then than he has in this one. I think nothing could be better for the Democrats than to go up against Ryan as a presidential candidate in the next election.

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    3. Just to nit pick slightly, Nixon was never a losing VP nominee, just a losing presidential nominee.

      He ran for VP twice and won both times, for president three times and won twice

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  9. Quite apart from the precriminations, what does the political science say about natural disasters and turnout? I guess that there is a class skew to the effect (if the territory is large and diverse, as it is this time) because people of modest income won't recover as quickly from the blow; that's a probability comment. Officials in NY, NJ, CT, Virginia, and Pennsylvania are making comments that are not encouraging about the getting the election process back to normal by Tuesday. So, a second observation is that confusion will suppress turnout -- where to vote, how to vote without electric power, altered rules about provisional ballots and absentee voting, how to count such ballots, and so on.

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    1. Monkey Cage did a whole bit on this (make sure you read Malhotra's comment as well)

      http://themonkeycage.org/blog/2012/10/28/how-hurricane-sandy-could-matter-on-election-day/

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  10. No! Don't go down the false equivalence path!
    "No, if Romney loses, Republicans will naturally be drawn to more simple explanations of why it shouldn't count. That's what most of us tend to do when our side loses."

    Denial ain't just a river in Egypt, that's true. And motivated reasoning (or cognitive dissonance if, like me, you think that theory was perfectly good before it got reincarnated as MR) is a universal human failing.

    BUT.

    There's research that shows that motivated reasoning is, in fact, MORE common amongst conservatives than liberals. It flows from lower levels of openness to experience AND higher levels of conscientiousness. Psychologically, conservatives are more likely to have a need for their world to comport with their prior beliefs.

    I'm in full agreement that Sandy would be a MUCH healthier alternative than "ACORN/Black Panthers/Iberian Menance/Whatever." However, Democrats are, in fact, different on this score. Yes, we will look for blame if/when we lose, and we're just as unlikely as the Reps to find fault in ourselves. But, the liberal response to losing is "the US is stupid for not agreeing with us." It's full of all kinds of condescension, sure, and can rightly be attacked for that. However, it's a DIFFERENT response than that which will come from the right.

    Heck, if we want to engage in the precriminations for the Dems, it's easy. It's all Bush's fault. (The economy was so bad that it couldn't turn around in 4 years). If Obama loses next week, I'd put money that idea will circulate out there. Note: it's really not going to be "Romney didn't ACTUALLY win." The only thing that will be close to that is the liberal canard of "well, if more people voted....." I expect that, too. "Obama would have won amonst the whole population, if only they weren't demotivated!" Sure. But, that's actually a really healthy response, because the solution is to work on increasing turnout amongst historically low turnout groups.

    But, the conservative response that you accurately hint at and label as not particularly healthy exists, and it's more poisonous and common on their side than ours. We don't just have to disagree on the best policies; sometimes, we're actually different animals, too.

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  11. What a wonderful thread. Going back to Obama's apparent 79% chance of winning, here's another suggestion for liberals if we wake up in Romnerica next Wednesday:

    Gnash your teeth, rend your garment, and wail in your very best Shatner...

    "Tuesday! Why oh why did the election have to be held on a...TUESDAY! Any...other...dayoftheweek, AND WE WIN! Damn you, Tuesday, damn you all to hell!"

    Worked in a bit of Heston there too, but anyway, it could be a lot of fun.

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    1. Great. Here's more Heston: "It's PEOPLE!! Corporations are people..... it's people....."

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    2. CSH totally wins the thread. Obviously.

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  12. There's also the "Romney wasn't a true conservative" explanation. I'm actually surprised the Obama camp hasn't really used the "flip flopper" attack that worked against Kerry.

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  13. Couves, they re-worked it into the "you can't trust that bullsh**tter Romney" meme. They hit it 24/7. Are you commenting half-asleep? You usually make more sense.

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    1. Then they must not be doing a very good job at it. Most of what I've seen from the Obama camp has been along the lines of Romney being a "capitalist heel."

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    2. Maybe the "Romney is a liar" thing isn't big where you are? Hard to imagine; it was the essential response of the entire Democratic party and liberal press to the first debate.

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    3. Anon, you're right, it has been out there... so I take that back. I was just expecting it to have larger role in framing the whole Democratic case against Romney than we've seen.

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    4. Couves, the Obama campaign apparently made a strategic decision not to rely on the flip-flopper charge. They figured they were better off painting Romney as a sincerely radical right-winger who really would pursue the extreme policies he associated himself with during the primaries, whereas talking him up as a flip-flopper could backfire by accidentally reassuring people that he wouldn't be as "severely conservative" as he claimed once in office. Whether this was a smart decision or not on their part, I really don't know.

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  14. Now they can blame Bloomberg, too.

    He's endorsed President Obama because of . . . climate change. It's finally an election talking point! Lot I don't like about Mayor Bloomberg, but I'm grateful to him for bringing this to the table, even at this late date.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/02/nyregion/bloomberg-endorses-obama-saying-hurricane-sandy-affected-decision.html?hp

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