Mitt Romney isn't losing the election - yet

Despite a narrative emerging of Romney's failure, Obama remains weak on the economy.

A new narrative is taking shape just over 40 days before Election Day: Mitt Romney is losing. That's expected as well as premature, but it's easy to see why so many on the left and right are calling this a wrap.

Romney's polling numbers stayed essentially flat after the Republican convention. Ditto after he picked US Representative and self-styled "fiscal hawk" Paul Ryan as his running mate. Romney looked like an craven opportunist after the ambassador to Libya was killed. And a video showing him despising and dismissing half of America as victims, moochers and ne'er-do-wells inspired one Bloomberg columnist to write this headline: "Today, Mitt Romney Lost the Election."

President Barack Obama, for his part, has enjoyed a steady rise in his favorability ratings since the Democratic convention, a marked turnaround from the last year. Since the DNC, Obama has raised the idea that a second term would mean less intransigence from Congressional Republicans. He told supporters in Wisconsin recently that reelection would "break the fever" of partisanship and that "only you can break the stalemate," according to the LA Times. Wishful thinking perhaps, but not inconceivable if he wins by a landslide.

There is evidence to suggest as much.

Obama is widening his lead swing states like Ohio. Even if Romney wins all the other states won by George W. Bush in 2004, if he loses Ohio, he'll only have 263 Electoral College votes (you need 270 to win).

Moreover, Talking Points Memo's poll tracker shows Obama with 328 Electoral College votes while Romney has 191. He broke 200 for the first time last month, but Obama has remained over 200 for months.

Nate Silver, of the New York Times, gives Romney 228 Electoral College votes, but only a 22 per cent chance of winning. For Obama? Silver gives the president a more than 77 per cent chance. Silver also says the probability that Obama gets 330 Electoral College votes is nearly 17 per cent. That Romney gets 270? Slightly more than zero.

All of which is why conservatives, not for the first time (I have lost track of how many times), are exhibiting a crisis of confidence in Romney. The more that Romney trails Obama in the polls, the more the GOP's radical conservatives want him to take the gloves off. And the more they want him to take the gloves off, the worse it gets for Romney, because middle-of-the-road voters don't like the GOP's radicalism (eg the American Association of Retired Persons booed Paul Ryan for vowing the repeal "Obamacare"). Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, the state Ryan represents, gave voice to the crazies when he said:

I thought [picking Ryan] was a signal that [Romney] was getting serious, he’s getting bold, it’s not necessarily even a frustration over the way Paul Ryan’s been used but rather in the larger context. I just haven’t seen that kind of passion I know Paul has transferred over to our nominee, and I think it’s a little bit of push-back from the folks in the national campaign. But I think for him to win he’s gotta [do] that.

TPM's Josh Marshall summed up the effect:

[T]he drip drip drip of casual disrespect for Romney from supposed supporters and the assumption that he’s a bad candidate who’s destined for defeat is no joke. It sows bad morale, becomes an intra-party distraction and source of conflict and confirms the settling idea that Romney’s a loser.

That makes it harder for Romney to turns things around, Marshall says, but maybe he doesn't want to. "[His campaign] doesn't need a turnaround," he told 60 Minutes over the weekend. "We've got a campaign which is tied with an incumbent president to the United States." He added: "I've got a very effective campaign."

Well, that's debatable given all of the above, but what's more certain is that Romney has a point. He is tied. Despite all the polls showing him behind the president, the two daily tracking polls - Gallup and Rasmussen - show that Romney remains in a tight race with Obama. Both are within the margin of error. Granted, the popular vote, which the tracking polls attempt to measure, is not as important ultimately as Electoral College, but that tightness suggests that all the drama over Romney's losing the race is overblown. And Mitt isn't losing. Yet.

Which shouldn't be surprising. The economy remains Obama's biggest weakness. It is improving, yes, but too slowly to matter by November. Voter suppression, in the name of preventing voter fraud, meanwhile threatens Obama's chances in Pennsylvania and Florida. And Romney has a lot more money than Obama, as do his Super PAC buddies.

This is why the Obama campaign is worried. Not so much because it can't surmount these obstacles, but because voters might become complacent if this new narrative about Romney's losing takes hold.

As Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, recalled saying:

Ignore the polls. There are always going to be polls showing us up. There are always going to be polls showing us down. None of that matters. What matters is your voter contacts in your state.

 

Mitt Romney. Photograph: Getty Images

John Stoehr teaches writing at Yale. His essays and journalism have appeared in The American Prospect, Reuters Opinion, the Guardian, and Dissent, among other publications. He is a political blogger for The Washington Spectator and a frequent contributor to Al Jazeera English.

 

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser