Unless something surprising and dramatic happens, President Obama will win a second term. The Associated Press just released an analysis of public and private polls that put Obama "within reach of the 270 electoral votes needed to win a second term." He is already running ahead in many major swing states. Sure, this week's presidential debate could make a difference—but it rarely does.
All things being equal, this should have been a cakewalk for Romney—or any half-decent Republican. The economy is still awful. Unemployment is over 8%, a magic number that historically kills reelection campaigns. Acknowledging this, Romney’s campaign promised a sales pitch tailored for hard times: he turned around companies; his business experience would help him turn around the U.S. economy.
This election is Romney's to lose—and apparently he has. The cause can be summed up in two words: Paul Ryan.
Sure, there were plenty of other missteps. His bizarre "47%" remark turned out to be a game changer that alienated swing voters. Romney's 47% slag fit neatly with an overall impression that Romney is a heartless automaton of a CEO who doesn't feel our pain. Worse, he's a man with something to hide; his refusal to release additional tax returns proves it.
Although greeted by Very Serious pundits as a canny combination of intellectual heft and Tea Party cred, the selection of running mate Paul Ryan proved a bigger disaster than Sarah Palin in 2008. As Paul Krugman points out, the selection is beginning to shape up as a "referendum" on the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society, on Social Security, Medicare and, yes, Obamacare, which represents an extension of that legacy."
And it’s Ryan's fault.
Before the veep announcement, the campaign was a referendum on Obama's stewardship over the economy. This was good for Romney. Since August, the conversation as turned to Paul Ryan, known for his plan to trash reform entitlement programs. This is a major misfire. The one time you don't attack the safety net is when people are feeling squeezed and pessimistic about the future.
Sensing resistance, Republicans walked back Ryan's extreme agenda with the old "divide and conquer" approach, guaranteeing that people over 55 would keep their Medicare and Social Security. But, Romney-Ryan forgot something: senior citizens have children and grandchildren.
Older Americans want younger people to enjoy the same benefits they're getting now. Many senior citizens no doubt see the slippery slope of austerity: taking away Social Security for people under 55 next leads to going after those over 55. Finally, with the U.S. Treasury squandering trillions of dollars on wars, it's tough to argue that the sick and old ought to resort to dumpster-diving.
The Romney–Ryan campaign understood that voters were pissed at Obama, but they didn't understand why.
There were two types of anger against Obama. Mostly prompted by Obamacare, right-wingers hate the president for growing an “intrusive” federal government. Liberal resentment—shared by many moderates—is aimed at Obama's refusal to help the jobless and foreclosure victims. Lefties also dislike Obamacare—but because, minus a public option, it's a sellout to the insurance conglomerates.
Romney could have seduced these voters with his own plans to help the sick and poor. Instead, he went with Ryan—who would destroy programs that are already too weak—and succeeded in frightening disgruntled Democrats back into Obama's camp.
Romney ignored the time-tested tactic of moving to the center after winning the party's nomination. Choosing Paul Ryan sent the opposite signal.
This is not to say that President Obama will have an easy second term. Unlike 2008, when the vast majority of Americans felt satisfied that they had made the right choice, Obama is only likeable enough compared to Romney. The only reason Obama seems headed to victory this November is that he was lucky enough to run against one of the most staggeringly inept campaigns in memory, headed by an unbelievably tone-deaf plutocrat.
Ted Rall is a columnist, cartoonist, author and independent war journalist. He is the winner of numerous awards and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His new book is The Book of Obama: How We Got From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.