When is the GOP (and the public) going to learn?
How many times have we heard that the only thing standing in the way of a grand bargain to reduce our growing national debt is Republican intransigence on taxes? If Republicans would only agree to dump Grover Norquist, Democrats will agree to cut spending and reform entitlements. Then, we can all join hands and sing Kumbaya as we usher in a new era of compromise and fiscal responsibility.
Except that now that Republicans have agreed to raise taxes, er, revenue, as part of an agreement to avoid the looming fiscal cliff, liberals appear to have decided that there really isn’t a need to cut spending after all.
Yup, in fact they’ve taken entitlement reform “off the table”.
Senate Democratic leaders signaled Tuesday they would not agree to any entitlement reforms before the end of the year that cut spending on Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.
They also said that any year-end deal to avoid the expiration of tax cuts and implementation of spending cuts — known as the fiscal cliff — must include a provision to raise the debt ceiling, which would otherwise have to be addressed early next year.
The White House and Reid have indicated they will not consider cuts to Social Security, a notable change from 2011, when President Obama said “everything is on the table,” including entitlement programs dear to his party’s base.
In other words, we’re back to “tax the rich”, raise the debt ceiling and spend, spend spend. Meanwhile, it is left up to the GOP to “compromise” by breaking the tax pledge (led by the Judas goats, Saxby Chambliss and Lindsey Graham) or be forever branded as the intransigent “bad guys” in this.
Meanwhile, low information Americans who, by over 60% approve of taxing the rich, will buy the spin by the press painting the GOP as the cause/reason for the calamity while Democrats “lament” the problem (“but, hey, that’s now the law thanks to Republicans”) and gleefully rub their hands in delight at all the new revenue they’ll have to “redistribute”.
Some things never change, do they?
Rob Port throws up a couple of graphs that show that, as most of us have been saying for quite some time, it’s not a revenue issue causing the Federal Government’s deficit problem – it’s a spending issue.
Per Port, since 2009, tax revenues are up 19%.
So how does one get the message across to government that it must live within it’s means if it gets a tax increase without spending cuts?
You don’t. You just encourage it to push for more. Already “millionaires” are defined as those making $250,000 a year.
But let’s make excuses for the GOP’s capitulation, shall we (the hapless GOP, which will get blamed if we go over the fiscal cliff or if we avoid it and everything crashes anyway)?
Apparently the new conventional wisdom, “spend till your wallet bleeds and then break out the credit cards” has repealed the laws of economics once again. Ask Paul Krugman if you don’t believe it.
Apparently when you pledge your word and you’re a politician, that pledge (and your word) has a shelf-life:
The decades-old pledge from the Americans for Tax Reform group has been signed by 238 House members and 41 senators in this Congress and has essentially become inescapable for any Republican seeking statewide or national office over recent election cycles, especially in the Republican-controlled lower chamber.
New York Rep. Peter King and Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday they would break the pledge and accept tax changes to generate more revenue to curb the trillion-dollar federal deficit.
Their statements followed a similar one Thursday by Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
“I agree entirely with Saxby Chambliss,” King said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress. … The world has changed, and the economic situation is different.”
That’s what you get for electing moral cowards (aka, “politicians”) to office.
Forget about it. It is your fault they spend more than they have so pay up and shut up. After all, voters don’t seem to hold them accountable for any of this so why should they worry or take responsiblity?
The great cave-in begins.
The good news? We won’t have to hear any moralizing by the GOP about “principles” … or at least we won’t have to take it seriously.
Charlie Cook, who is very astute politically, made this observation about the election that I think is pretty spot on, and it reinforces what we’ve been talking about here for the last few days:
Watching politics for 40 years now, I have seen the two major parties tend to leapfrog each other in terms of political sophistication. This state of the political art, when one party is firing on all eight (or, these days, six or even four) cylinders, seems to happen when the other party is in desperate need of a tune-up.
Democrats had a lousy economy, made some rather dubious policy choices in the past four years, and had an incumbent who chose to skip the first debate. But when it came to just about everything else, they handled things expertly, or developments went their way. Republicans had a bright candidate, but one who lacked the dexterity to handle a very challenging set of circumstances, and a party that was well out of touch with the demographic, generational, and ideological changes quietly transforming the electorate.
The emphasized lines make the bottom line point, in my opinion. “Tune it up” or continue to push the same tired line to an electorate that is transforming and you’ll see similar results the next time too. Deny it all you wish, “them’s the facts”.
What was it that Einstein said we should call trying the same thing over and over again while expecting different results?
Perhaps it comes as a surprise to some of our readers, but we are not a Republican or Conservative blog. We are a libertarian, or more precisely a Neo-libertarian blog. As it happens, this puts us far closer to the conservative end of the spectrum than the liberal end in most things, so I can see, what with our constant nagging about President Obama’s policy foolishness over the last four years, why many readers would think of us as conservatives. But we aren’t really.
Maybe that’s why Bryan’s suggestions seemed so off-putting to the conservatives who regular read us here. Oh, and the fact that Bryan, while he’s had posting privileges here for, well, a long time, doesn’t post all that much anymore. I wish he posted more, but apparently, he has a life. But he’s still got his name on the masthead. See? It’s over there on the sidebar, on the left.
It’s gonna stay there.
The thing is, if you’re a conservative—especially a social conservative, you just need to accept that pretty much all of us support gay marriage, are at least squishy on abortion law, etc., etc., so you’re not going to find this a congenial place, for the most part, on social issues.
So much for old business.
Now onto the the posts Bryan contributed over the last few days. As It happens, I have some thoughts on his ideas myself.
Immigration is a sticky issue. I think that Milton Friedman was right in that you cannot have both unrestricted immigration and a welfare state. If you try to have both, you will inevitably bankrupt the system completely. Which, now that I think about it, is at least a self-solving problem.
But that solution itself would cause…difficulty, so it’s best to avoid it.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have a very expansive welfare state and what of we did have would be off-limits to immigrants. That isn’t the situation we have, however, which makes unrestricted immigration difficult to deal with.
It’s even more troubling when you realize that we have a set of challenges that make any immigration difficult to deal with at the present time.
There has been a distinct cultural shift in the way we deal with immigrants, in terms of our willingness to assimilate them into the American culture. For instance, when I was a child, immigrant children were expected to learn English, and conform to mainstream American culture. Essentially, immigrants were told—often in no uncertain terms—that we didn’t care how they did things in Kaplokistan, they were in America and they would do things our way. The message, from every level of society, was that if their original country was such a great place, they’d still be there. The result was that the children of immigrants were quite keen to assimilate, and mostly did so.
But we don’t do that any more. We’re now ever so sensitive to their cultural concerns, that we don’t try to assimilate them at all. We fear offending their delicate cultural sensitivities. As a result, the assimilation takes place at a much slower rate.
For example, here in southern California, we provide official voting ballots in somewhere around 100 different languages. Let me just state something that should be obvious: If you cannot vote in the English language, you shouldn’t be voting. Or, dare I say it, even be a citizen. If you can’t even be troubled to learn the dominant language of our popular culture, how in the world can you grasp the essentials of our political culture and principles?
This is compounded by the fact that today’s immigrants come from a vastly different political culture than those of a century ago. Today’s immigrants come from countries with an explicitly socialist political culture, which is decidedly not the case of immigrants who came to the US prior to the 1920s. Prior to that time, most immigrants came from monarchies with an intensely class-based structure, no middle class to speak of, and no possibility for social mobility. They come from countries where their social status was determined by the class they were born in, and they came here to escape both grinding poverty, and a class structure that made escaping that poverty extraordinarily difficult.
Today’s immigrants, thanks to the USSR’s pervasive influence in the 3rd world in the 50s-70s, have grown up with a socialist political world-view. They will naturally be prone to gravitate to the Democratic Party. Certainly, some portion will come here to escape socialism, but most probably don’t think too deeply about politics, and simply accept the socialist view of activist government they’ve been taught all their lives. When they get here, they find a political party that also accepts that political world-view, so naturally they gravitate towards it. Prior to the 1920’s, they would not have.
So I don’t think you can point to unrestricted immigration in the 19th century and draw too many parallels to how such a policy might work today. Both the original political culture of the immigrant, and the American political culture they find on arrival here, are completely different than they were a century ago.
And, of course, I also think about how California has fared with the massive immigration, a great portion of it illegal, of the last 30 years. The Central Valley has deteriorated almost to 3rd World status, with a permanent underclass of Mexican laborers who have essentially become modern-day helots, rampant property crime, deteriorating public services, and terrible poverty.
What lessons do we learn from all that?
I honestly don’t know how to approach entitlement reform. Maybe Bryan’s suggestion has merit, but I simply don’t know. We’ve told every person in the country that they have a defined-benefits pension, and, though people my age and younger don’t really believe Social Security will be there for us, We’ve spent all our working lives paying into it. We certainly feel we’re owed something for it. We had a Deal. You can’t just break the Deal.
And here is the real, non-obvious reason why you can’t break that Deal: We don’t have a stable currency. As a result, we simply cannot safely save for retirement.
Let me explain.
When the US was on the gold standard, you could simply stuff money into your mattress. In fact, a lot of people did. And the reason they could was that their money retained its purchasing power. Every dollar bill was a receipt for your real money. Every banknote said, "The US Treasury will pay the bearer X dollars." If you took a dollar bill into the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, slapped it on the counter, and said give me my money, a servitor would take your dollar, nip back to the vault, and return with a little bag containing 1/35oz of gold, or 1/16oz of silver. Today, your dollar bill is a receipt for nothing. It’s worth whatever the US government says it’s worth at any given time.
And, especially since 1973, it’s been worth less and less every year. Since 1970, the price of housing has risen 1050%. A savings account at a bank doesn’t pay an interest rate that keeps up with inflation. So, with a fiat currency that is constantly debased, that leaves very few savings options.
Essentially, to make a return greater than inflation, the county has been forced into the stock market for investment. But what happens if the market crashes? You lose a large portion of your saved investment. If you have several years to make it up, well, good. But what if it happens when you’re close to retirement? Well, you say, of course, you have to find safer investments like tax-free munies or something. And you should allocate your portfolio wisely, etc., etc.
But most people don’t want to do that. And they don’t want to learn all sorts of investment arcana. They want to save, do so safely, and not have inflation eat away all of their savings. Social Security does that, from their point of view, and it doesn’t make them live in fear that some unforeseen market event will eat up their hard-won savings.
That’s why so many people are opposed to Social Security privatization. They’re afraid of market investment, and are especially so seeing the roller-coaster rise the market’s been on since 2000.
But they have no safe option for saving that keeps pace with inflation.
Not having a stable currency forces people into riskier and harder-to-understand investments, and people don’t want to mortgage their future to investments that are risky and hard to understand.
Social Security was easy to understand, and it at least gave the illusion of security, no matter what the reality was.
A reliable, stable currency would make entitlement reform a lot easier, because it would vastly reduce the fear of inflation eating away at their retirement.
Social issues are the hot button with a significant portion of the GOP. I’m not entirely sure that if the GOP abandons social issues they’d be able to attract enough people from the Democrats to make up a viable political party, by which I mean one that has a shot at winning nationally. I don’t think that the Democrats have enough of a fiscally conservative, socially liberal electoral base to attract to the new, socially agnostic GOP.
The reality is, though, that when it comes to politics, the culture is determinative on the outcomes of social issues.
It doesn’t get much play, but, as it happens, according to polls—which as we know from the last election are pretty accurate—a slight majority of the electorate is actually pro-life. You wouldn’t know it from watching the news, but somehow, over the last decade, pro-choice has become the minority opinion in the country. Presumably, if that trend continues—and there’s no guarantee it will—Roe v. Wade will be overturned. Maybe. I mean, just because people are generally pro-life, it doesn’t mean that women don’t want to have abortion as an option. Just in case. Maybe it doesn’t get overturned at all, but abortion becomes culturally objectionable and we’ll get a lot less of it.
If Roe is overturned, then, abortion will become a state issue. Or, perhaps we’ll keep Roe, and just tighten down on abortions: limit them to the 1st trimester, and give exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother, implement stricter parental controls, and that sort of thing. If it is overturned, states like California and New York will make it unambiguously legal. Some states will restrict it. Some will ban it completely.
Maybe that’s the answer for social issues. Leave them to the states, and people will gravitate to the states where the social milieu is more congenial to them. But that will be difficult to do now that we’ve cast all social issues in terms of rights.
I think that was a mistake, but here we are.
The gay marriage people say they have a right to marry. OK. Then why don’t polygamists have a right to do so as well? Once you’ve cast an argument in terms of rights, you’ve started wielding a hammer, not a scalpel, to solve your social problems. If gays have a right to marry, then why doesn’t another group of consenting adults have that right? How do you draw that line in terms of rights?
We forced the Mormon religion to de-legitimize polygamy in order for Utah to become a state. If adults have the right to order their relationships as they choose, then how was that legitimate? How is it legitimate, in terms of rights, to forbid close relatives to marry?
Rights are a pretty blunt instrument.
But how does letting gays get married somehow damage marriage as an institution? I guess I don’t understand that. I get that marriage is important, and I get why it’s important. But, it’s not so important, I guess, that we want to make divorce difficult. Which is, after all, why more than half of marriages end in it. Oh, and by the way, aren’t something like half of the kids born today, born out of wedlock?
Something’s going on with marriage today, and it’s mainly not good, but it doesn’t seem to have much to do with gay people.
Here’s a couple of realities to think about, though:
- We’re about 30 or 40 years behind Europe in turning into a post-Christian culture. You wanna know the culture your grandkids will grow up in? Look at the Netherlands or Britain.
- With Obama’s re-election, there’s an excellent chance that 1 or two conservative justices will be replaced by Obama. That means Roe v. Wade will probably be around for another 20 years, and who knows what the culture will think about it then?
Ultimately, the place to fight social issues doesn’t seem to be in politics, though. If you want to win on social issues, you have to to win the culture. If you can’t get a cultural consensus, you will never get a political one.
That seems to me to imply that conservatives should be battling not in Washington, DC, but in Hollywood, and in the Media, and in their local schools and colleges. The Left has made a largely successful march through the country’s cultural institutions, taken them over, and are shaping it to their liking. Conservatives have spent the last 4 decades unsuccessfully trying to take over the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Left has turned education into a 16-year commie indoctrination course, topped off by Continuing Education in socialism from TV, news media, and movies.
Maybe conservatives should be thinking about how to win the culture. If they do that, the politics will ineluctably follow. The reverse, however, is simply not true.
This is a departure from my previous two posts; it’s not about a particular group that has pulled away from the GOP. Romney pulled a slightly larger share of older voters than McCain did, even if fewer total turned out than in previous years. That the Romney-Ryan ticket did this while proposing entitlement reform is a substantial feat, but it did involve watering down the reforms a great deal. For example, Republicans now make a habit of promising that nobody under age 55 will be affected by their reforms.
Why make this concession when the lion’s share of the fiscal problem is current retirees and the many, many Baby Boomers who will retire soon? Boomers vote, of course, but what motivates them? I don’t think most seniors could bring themselves to act on straightforward greed; I think they’re voting based on a particular concept of fairness.
Specifically, they paid into the system over a long career, and they believe they should be able to get back what they paid in. And even though current Medicare beneficiaries get two to six times as much in benefits as they paid in (if this is right), only about a third of Americans think Medicare beneficiaries get any more than they paid in. As long as they think that way, they’ll continue to oppose means testing and raising the retirement age by wide margins.
You might be tempted to say that our task is to educate them, but it’s much easier to persuade people based on their current beliefs than to convince them of inconvenient facts first. Republicans basically conceded that cutting benefits to older voters at all would be unfair, and pushed complicated plans that few people aside from Paul Ryan can competently defend.
But we might be even bolder if we just hugged that core fairness principle tighter.
September’s Reason-Rupe poll (PDF – fixed link) asked Americans if they’d support cuts to their own Medicare benefits “if you were guaranteed to receive benefits at least equal to the amount of money that you and your employer contribute into the system.” It was a blowout: 68% yes, 25% no. Three quarters of Tea Partiers said yes.
At a stroke, you could slash Medicare in half with a reform based on that principle. (Their August 2011 poll suggested similar support for applying the principle to Social Security, but the cuts would be much more modest.)
Centering a reform on that principle achieves steeper cuts and seems easier to defend than what Paul Ryan is trying. Because if Democrats fought us on it, they’d have to make the wildly unpopular case for entitlements as redistribution programs rather than as “insurance” or “savings.”
The kind of coalition the Right needs for sustainable entitlement reform has to include people who highly value fairness (or, as Jonathan Haidt would call it, proportionality). If we want the project of liberty to be successful, we have to pluck on other heartstrings.
I already mentioned that marriage, kids, and a mortgage are very strong indicators of conservatism. Here’s a straightforward causal explanation: when you’re invested in something, you don’t want it to be taken from you, and you’re skeptical of starry-eyed meddlers doing anything that might threaten it. Probably the best thing done for the cause against gun control was teaching others how to use and maintain a firearm: once people own one, it sharpens the mind to cut through any argument for taking it away.
But a gun is a small investment compared to a committed and intimate relationship, custody of children, and homeownership. A dollar taxed is one that you can’t spend on your family when they want something, a dollar borrowed is one that your kids will pay back, and that meddler on TV is rolling the dice with a major part of your life.
In the case of immigration, Hispanics are already primed to be conservative because they’re already invested. With gay marriage, you have a group trying awfully hard to get more invested.
The conservative argument for embracing gay marriage is that marriage seems to be a fine institution that benefits even people who can’t have children together, and that it may strengthen the institution and the country to expand the institution so that a nontrivial minority of the population is on the inside trying to protect it rather than on the outside where their exclusion leads to thorny political issues of respect and tribalism.
Another conservative argument is that if gay marriage is politically inevitable, conservatives should proactively move through legislation to ensure that it goes smoothly without infringing on other freedoms (like those of association and contract), rather than allow this to play out entirely in the courts or in a referendum. If conservatives keep trying to board the windows, more stuff is going to end up broken than if they just opened the door.
As with immigration and Hispanics, marriage may not be gays’ top priority, but it matters, and the way Republicans approach and discuss the issue can signal that “you’re not one of us,” which is poison for coalition-building.
The flip side of that coin doesn’t have to be pandering; given the consciousness of gay communities about targeted violence and bullying, it’d be awesome if conservatives taught more gays how to use and maintain firearms.
After the election, Righty circles are naturally engaging in some soul-searching, finger-pointing, and bickering. Some of this is unproductive venting, but it’s also the start of the process of working out how to move on and improve, and there’s no time to waste.
My conversations with fellow Righty operatives and bloggers have spurred me to suggest several ways Republicans could simultaneously make the party more attractive (or less repulsive) to voters and achieve more conservative results. This post is about immigration and reversing the trend of Hispanics rapidly abandoning the GOP; the next is about gay marriage; and the final post is about entitlement reform.
First, let’s dispense with the notion agreed upon by many on the Right: seal the border first, so that whatever follows is more controlled and orderly. This is an expensive fantasy. Conservatives need to apply their skepticism of huge, complex, market-distorting government plans to every issue surrounding immigration, starting with any plan to spend tens of billions of dollars on thousands of miles of fence, surveillance, unionized government employees, and a verification system forced on every employer in the country.
It’s a joke that the Republican Party, which is practically defined by marriage, babies, and mortgages, holds at arm’s length a whole demographic (Hispanics, especially foreign-born) that tends to be more religious, marry younger and longer, and have larger families than the average American voter.
Mass immigration could work for the GOP if the GOP went with the tide instead of trying to stop it.
- If Republicans want school choice, they should have natural allies among those who are religious, have large families, and see their children suffer under the worst public schools. When you hear complaints that Hispanic immigrants don’t speak English, suggest vouchers and education savings accounts for private-school English language instruction.
- If Republicans want to revive farms and stop the population drain from rural areas, make legitimate cheap labor more available: open up a bunch of farm worker visas.
- If Republicans want to cut the cost of new housing so that young people can form households and families, make legitimate cheap labor available for that too. Heck, why not try to break various trade unions by inviting enough skilled immigrants to swamp or bypass their system?
- So the entitlement system is a problem? Yeah, Milton Friedman famously said you can’t simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state. Shouldn’t the Republican response be “Bring on free immigration“? If math dooms Medicaid and the subsidized industrial-age hospital model, why not make the math even harder?
- Conservatives have longed to shift taxes away from production and toward consumption. Nobody wants to remove labor tax wedges (AHEM: the payroll tax) as much as someone in a labor-intensive business, the kind that tends to thrive when there’s a lot of cheap labor available. That goes for both employers and the employees whose compensation is tilted toward wages rather than benefits; we know it suppresses the Hispanic savings rate. And the payroll tax, of course, helps to maintain the accounting fiction that SocSec and Medicare are like savings.
Now, about the security problem: is it easier to pick out a genuine security threat in the crowd if everyone just has to pass a security check, or if hundreds of thousands of people are trying to cross the border undetected because the only legal route is a seven-year byzantine process?
Heather Mac Donald at NRO offers a potential counter-argument: Hispanics are more suspicious of Republicans for supporting class warfare than for opposing immigration according to a poll (from March 2011), and a majority favor gay marriage, so they’re not such a conservative bunch. But:
- Immigration may not be most Hispanics’ top concern, but it isn’t trivial either. And because politics is so tribal, there are many ways to alienate a group without actually disagreeing on policy – many of which Republicans blunder into when discussing immigration.
- Republicans shouldn’t cede the class warfare argument either: it wouldn’t hurt if the party focused more on the poor, as Mac Donald’s colleague Kevin D. Williamson exhorts the GOP to do. If you’re a small-government type who reads the previous sentence as a plea to compromise on principle, that reaction is part of the problem.
- Finally: social issues. Mac Donald points out that a majority of Hispanics favor gay marriage. I’ll argue in my next post that conservatives should proactively embrace gay marriage, which should resolve this issue nicely.
It’s rather simple really. And the Washington Post provides the answer today:
In the last three releases of the tracking poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News, Obama has trailed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney among independent voters by between 16 and 20 percentage points.
That’s a striking reversal from 2008, when Obama won independent voters, who made up 29 percent of the electorate, by eight points over Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
And if Romney’s large margin among independents holds, it will be a break not just from 2008 but also from 2000 and 2004. In 2000, Texas Gov. George W. Bush won independents by 47 percent to 45 percent over Vice President Al Gore. Four years later, Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts essentially split unaffiliated voters, according to exit polls — 48 percent for Bush to 49 percent for Kerry. (Independents made up 27 percent of the vote in 2000 and 26 percent in 2004.)
It is more than a “striking reversal”, it is an indicator of what other major demographics are demonstrating as well. A big shift away from Obama. So one of two things has to be true – the polls showing these big demographic shifts away from Obama are wrong, or the polls showing this to be a tight race with Obama slightly ahead or behind have to be wrong. They can’t both be right.
When you add in the “atmospherics”, it is hard to believe this is a tight race. The enthusiasm for Obama isn’t there (and certainly not at all like it was in 2008), apparently the major demographics aren’t there and finally, even in the polls that do show a close race, the trend continues to be up for Romney.
It still isn’t clear what demographic model the polls are using, but as I said in the podcast last night, if it is skewed with D+ anything, it is likely wrong. If I had to guess I’d say a poll that isn’t skewing at least R+1 isn’t even in the same galaxy as this election. The atmospherics, demographics and momentum, whether the left or MSM wants to admit it or not, are on the side of the GOP. My guess is this doesn’t end up being a close election and that Democrats are not going to be happy with the outcome.
Michael Barone is one of the few poll watchers I respect. I’ve watched him in any number of elections and he’s objectively called it the way he saw it, usually spot on, for whomever the facts indicated was in the lead. No spin, just good analysis.
Well, in this season of polling chaos, Barone is out with his look at some of the key indicators that help him analyze election trends and he seems to think we are seeing a preference cascade begin ala 1980 … just slower:
My other alternative scenario was based on the 1980 election, when vast numbers of voters switched from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan after their single debate one week before the election. In that debate, the challenger showed he had presidential stature and the incumbent president seemed petulant and small-minded.
We saw an even more vivid contrast between challenger and incumbent in the Oct. 3 debate. In the next two debates, Obama was definitely more focused and aggressive. But Romney held his own, and post-Oct. 16 polling showed him improving his standing even though many debate watchers thought Obama won on points.
What we may be seeing, as we drink from the firehose of multiple poll results pouring in, is a slow-motion 1980.
That reinforces my point about the first debate and something we’ve been saying since Oct. 3. That is the debate that mattered. And note also that in debates 2 and 3, Obama pulled a Carter. His stature was diminished by his actions. He, as Barone and many others have observed, came across as “petulant and small-minded”. Add arrogant and condescending, and you’ve captured it. Oh, and by the way, his record, like Carter’s, is dismal.
Romney, on the other hand, came across exactly as he had to come across – competent, presidential, confident and, believe it or not, likable. He did what Ronald Reagan did – unfiltered by the media, he was able to convince Americans who tuned in that he was Presidential material. That he was a more than acceptable alternative to Obama.
All of that said, Barone isn’t claiming that this is a done deal by any stretch (“don’t get cocky kid”):
The usual caveats are in order. Exogenous events could affect opinion (Libya seems to have hurt Obama). The Obama ground game is formidable. Voters who switched to Romney could switch back again.
And if there is a larger reservoir of potentially changeable voters than in 2004, there was an even larger reservoir back in 1980, when Carter attracted white Southerners who now are firmly in Romney’s column.
Mechanical analogies can be misleading. Just because Romney has gained ground since Oct. 3 does not guarantee that he will gain more.
But also keep in mind that Romney gained not just from style but from fundamentals. Most voters dislike Obama’s domestic policies and are dissatisfied with the sluggish economy. And now they seem to believe have an alternative with presidential stature.
So, while we apparently have a preference cascade beginning, is it enough? And will it peak at the right time. Will it be a slow steady climb to election day? Will it plateau? Will it stop short of the majority Romney needs? Obviously we won’t know that until election night (or, perhaps, the next day). But suffice it to say, the upward trend is obvious.
How it will play out, however, remains to be seen.