Conventional Wisdom Is Wrong. It’s Romney’s To Lose.

Catching Barack Obama in a rare moment of candor, an open mic found the president confiding to his Russian counterpart that he expects to win this fall. “This is my last election,” he told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Last, yes. But I wouldn’t bet on Obama winning.

The corporate pundit class has largely conceded the general election to Obama, already looking ahead to 2016. The mainstreamers have their reasons. Their analysis is based on good, solid, reasonable (inside the box) logic. All things considered, however, I would (and have) put my money on Mitt Romney this fall.

This isn’t wishful thinking. I voted for Obama last time and wanted him to succeed. He failed. His accomplishments have been few and have amounted to sellouts to the right. Even so, the prospect of watching Mitt Romney move into the White House fills me with as much joy as an appointment for a colonoscopy. And I think he’s going to win.

For me, the D vs. R horserace is a parlor game with minor ramifications for our daily lives. Whichever corporate party wins, unemployment and underemployment will continue to worsen, income disparity will widen, and most of our taxes will fund the worst approach to international affairs since a former Austrian corporal blew out his brains out in a bunker under Berlin.

Thanks to the Occupy movement, real politics is back where it belongs—in the streets. That’s what I’ll be watching and working. With a lot of luck (and even more pepper spray) this will be a year of revolution rather than more electoral devolution.

Revolution is inevitable. But we don’t know when it’s coming. So the 2012 campaign may still matter. Besides, handicapping elections is a game I enjoy and am good at. During 17 years of syndication my pick to win has only lost once (for the 2004 Democratic nomination). So, on the off chance that you’re one of those who still cares about our husk of a democracy, who hangs on every meaningless development of a political process devoid of politics—or you’re just a betting person, here’s my thinking.

Barring an assassination or a scandal, Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee.

Obama currently leads Romney by about four to five points. But that’s not nearly enough of a lead to carry him to November. History shows that Republican nominees steadily increase in popularity throughout the summer and fall of an election year.

In April 2004, for example, John Kerry led George W. Bush by eight points. But Swift Boating erased that lead, and then some.

In order to win, a successful Democratic nominee has to begin with a big margin. That early lead must be large enough to wind up in the black, after months of being whittled away, when the votes get counted in November. I can’t see Obama pulling far enough ahead soon.

Incumbency is a huge advantage. If the election were held tomorrow, Obama would prevail. But the election is not being held tomorrow. It’s being held in November.

By the time they head to the polls this fall, voters’ brains will be drowning in months of hundreds of millions of dollars of slick, demographically targeted, pro-Romney attack ads. Republican campaigns are more effective at this sort of thing, and as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum can attest, Romney’s consultants pull no punches. Obama’s current lead will be a faded memory.

Every political campaign comes down to a contest of narratives. In 2008 Obama developed an effective sales pitch: Hope and Change for a nation exhausted by eight years of Bush, 9/11, war, taking off your shoes at the airport, and a full-fledged global economic crisis to boot. Obama’s advisers turned his biggest weaknesses—his inexperience, race, unusual name and foreign background—into assets. Here was a new kind of president. Just the guy to lead us out of the Bad Old Days into something better. McCain-Palin’s narrative—a cranky old ex-POW paired with a zany housewife-gone-wild—didn’t stand a chance.

This year the narratives favor Romney.

Romney is already pointing to the biggest issue on people’s minds, the economy, and claiming that his background as a turnaround artist qualifies him to fix what ails us. His prescriptions are Republican boilerplate, vague and counterproductive, but at least he’s doing something Obama hasn’t—talking a lot about creating jobs. Voters prefer useless attentiveness to calm, steady golfing (Obama’s approach). And—despite its illogic—they like the run-government-like-a-business narrative (c.f. Ross Perot, the Bushes).

Obama is boxed in by three-plus years of inaction on, well, pretty much everything. He’ll argue that he’ll be able to “finish the job” during a second term, but that’s a tough sell when you haven’t tried to start the job—in 2009, when Democrats had huge majorities in both houses of Congress. His single signature accomplishment, healthcare reform, is disliked by two-thirds of the electorate. The recent “good news” on the economy has been either insignificant (net positive job creation of 100,000 per month for two months, less than one-tenth of one percent of the 25 million jobs needed) or falsified (discouraged workers no longer counted as unemployed).

Despite what Obama tells them, Americans know things are still getting worse. Similarly, Obama’s recent, feeble, impotent rhetorical attempts to shore up his support among his Democratic Party’s disappointed liberal base will probably not generate enough enthusiasm to counter other factors that favor Romney.

You can’t vote for the first African-American president twice. Unless he picks a woman as vice president, a vote for Obama will be a vote for the same-old, same-old. The history-making thrill is gone.

At this writing the Republican Party appears to be in disarray. No doubt, Romney is emerging from the primaries battered and bruised. His awkward and demented soundbite stylings (“corporations are people,” “the trees are the right height”) will provide fodder for countless YouTube parodies. But Romney hasn’t been damaged as much as the official political class seems to think.

Republicans are a remarkably loyal bunch. United by their many hatreds (liberals, blacks, gays, poor people, Mexicans, Muslims, foreigners, etc.), they will set aside their comparatively low simmer of anti-Mormon bigotry this fall. Picking a standard-issue white Anglo Christianist thug as veep will cinch the deal.

The GOP enjoys a huge fundraising advantage, especially via the new-fangled SuperPACs. Romney has raised $74 million against $151 million for Obama, but look for that ratio to flip after he locks up the nomination. Cue those vicious, potent ads mentioned above.

About the only major factor working for Obama is the presidential debates. Romney doesn’t stand a chance against the cool, articulate Obama.

Of course, it’s a long way to November. A lot can happen. It’s very possible for Obama to win. But that’s not how it looks now.

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is

16 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Handicapped

  1. Really good points.
    But also remember, Kerry was the inevitable Democratic nominee and he was supposed to be the one who could beat Bush. However, I remember no genuine enthusiasm for the man–which I also see happening with Mitt today.
    Good to remind us about the charade that is presidential year politics…

  2. “For me, the D vs. R horserace is a parlor game with minor ramifications for our daily lives.”
    True, true, true. The country is not run by elected government officials, it is run by a permanent unelectable elite. CIA doesn’t change policy because of new politicians. The Pentagon doesn’t change policy because of new politicians. Tax policy is not changed because of new politicians. Corporate-run think tanks, etc … (such as ALEC) draft the laws and grease up the politicians to ensure their laws are passed. We don’t live in a democracy and anyone that thinks so is either ignorant of the facts or self-deluded.

    “This will be a year of revolution rather than more electoral devolution.”
    False. Occupy is joke. A seasonal hangout with some pretty greasy looking hippies. At this point it’s fair to say Occupy doesn’t even really exist anymore. It was over before it was started, which is par-for-the-course for anything American. We don’t have culture. We have branding. We have consumption. Occupy is just another brand at this point, so its co-opting was not only inevitable it was advisable. When you act like a brand you get treated like a brand.

    “During 17 years of syndication my pick to win has only lost once (for the 2004 Democratic nomination).”
    Oof, Ted. How can you misrepresent the facts here. You spent all of early 2008 writing every other column about Clinton would wipe the floor with Obama. I mean, seriously – you need to correct this error in the piece. It’s a credibility issue.

  3. “You can’t vote for the first African-American president twice.”

    –No, but you can vote for the African-American president twice, and many of the idiots who thought such a thing was important the first time will think it matters again. They are “Trayvon”, and if you think the calculated media coverage of this story has nothing to do with helping Obama keep the support of this “valuable” demographic (and keeping guns away from private citizens / beefing up domestic security), you’re fooling yourselves.

    I half wonder if Ted wrote this piece with the hope that Obama or his advisors might read it, take it seriously, and do something desperate to head off his impending loss of power.

    My bet? War with Iran, less than 60 days prior to the election. The only “wait and see” Obama cares about is waiting and seeing how much rope the Republicans take to hang themselves with once this war begins, and he tries his own redux of GWB’s “with us or against us”, “support the commander-in-chief” shtick. That’s probably why Republicans are talking about job creation while Obama is sending every last carrier in the fleet to the Persian Gulf.

    Meanwhile in Iran…

    They’ve got quite a stockpile of ballistic missiles, don’t they? No nukes yet, though. The international community is (begrudgingly) agreed upon this.

    Fortunately, we’ve armed all neighboring nations with the latest ballistic missile interception technology we have to keep those ballistic missiles in check.

    Unfortunately that same technology can be applied to intercept the ballistic missiles Israel uses to deliver its own nukes.

    Maybe that’s why the Iranians asked for (and received) ballistic missile interception technology as part of the arms deals in the 80’s (in which arch-foe Israel played the role of honest weapons broker…for a fee. See the great “Iran-Contra” Wikipedia article.)

    Maybe that’s why the Mossad and the CIA think they know so much about Iran’s missile technology.

    Then again, those were different times, and Iran had every reason in the world to gratefully share its acquisitions with the Russians and China. Maybe the (then Soviets) and China were kind enough to reciprocate.

    …How WERE those Bosnians able to shoot down one of our stealth fighters?

    Maybe that’s what Israel (and the US) are really afraid of, and maybe the Iranians aren’t that dumb after all.

    I’d say Israel has a “closing window of opportunity” to make any use of its nuke-based “diplomatic” leverage.

    “Occupy” had better quickly relearn the meaning of the word. The best time to “occupy” is when the punditocracy is shrilly denouncing your lack of “patriotism” for doing so, and that time will be coming soon.

  4. Occupy has been and continues to be an irrelvancy, barring Alex’s gloomy prediction of some poor shmuck getting killed while attending an Occupy protest by an overzealous cop. It will never recover from the break it took over the winter, and it was momumentally ineffective when it was at the peak of its popularity, which has long since passed.

    You’re also discounting the “Tea Party”, which, I promise you, have absolutely NO intention of setting aside anything, least of all their hatred of Mormons, and those they view as “fake” conservatives. If Romney gets the nod, the Republican turnout will be the lowest in decades, merely so the Tea Party can go: “See! That’s what you get for not nominating a real conservative”, and then turn around and unite behind someone scary crazy (Santorum, I’m looking at you) in 2016.

    Commericals are less effective than you might think, as NOBODY watches them anymore since the advent of the DVR. And besides, by the time Romney nails down the nomination, the majority of folks will have already made their minds up beyond swaying.

    Last, but by no means least, NOBODY likes Romney. Bush was a moron, but at least you always got the sense that going to a bar with him would be a good time, and that got him FAR too many votes (a sad commentary on our populace, but whatever). Romney flunks that test.

    No, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- the ONLY way Obama loses is if someone other than Mitt, Rick, Newt or Ron is the nominee. I’ll stand by that.

    Now, a far more interesting discussion is on Congress- at the moment, I’d actually argue Dems retake the House, but the R’s get the seante just barely(51-49, or maybe even 50-50).

  5. About Obama. The narrative keeps telling us how he’s the first black president. This is incorrect. Obama, just like Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, etc. is not black or white or beige or brown. The people at that level of power and wealth do not belong to a race/class construct. The closest equivalent is that of the police force. Black cops, white cops, Asian cops? Doesn’t matter. They’re all blue. And anyone who proceeds in political analysis (or police analysis) without incorporating that face is going to come to defective conclusions.

    Obama doesn’t give a flying fuck about Trayvon Martin. Obama’s handlers see Martin as a conveniently dead black boy whose utility for the campaign will be evaluated. He is the anti-Willy Horton.

    The upcoming election is, barring some very good luck for Obama, going to see him losing. He will not lose because of what he stood for or did (some very slender reeds, those). rather, he will lose because a lot of the voters who showed up the first time will simply not bother. My suspicion is that young voters and black voters will have a double-digit dip from their previous election numbers. The young are not stupid. Even though they spend most of their lives thumb-typing tweets that will disqualify them for jobs if their bosses ever see them, they can see what the jobscape looks like. The older voters see an economy of such terrible fragility that it’s absolutely piss-your-pants terrifying to contemplate how easily your job can simply be eliminated, along with so many others at the same time that the likelihood of getting work again will be highly unlikely. No one races to the polls to elect a president when the best job they can hope for in their 54th or 57th year of life is something part-time at Home Depot.

    My mother has a pension and social security, and she still has to scrimp. We’re going to be seeing a lot more stories of people who worked and saved for decades, whose 401(k)s took a massive cut, and whose houses lost half their value, and who are now heading into a jobless homestretch of five to 10 years before “retirement.”

  6. @alex

    The young aren’t stupid, no. That’s why Obama is going to win. Because enough of them get that no matter how little Obama has improved things (and it’s considerably more than you or Ted give him credit for- which I bet they also see), putting Romney in charge is a guarantee of making things MUCH, MUCH, WORSE.

    They’ve seen that Occupy is worthless when it comes to achieving their goals, and that dropping out of the system does nothing other than lead to atroticies like the past two years. Their only hope is re-engagment with the system in massive numbers.

    I actually expect parity with 2008 in terms of votes cast, with at worst maybe a 2-3% decline.

    You’d have a decent point, and a much higher probability of being correct, had the Republicans run someone sane, like Hunstman. But they didn’t- they ran straight behind economy destroying, planet destroying, future destroying crazy.

    Young people just aren’t going to let that happen. As you said, they aren’t stupid.

  7. I always had my doubts about Obama. The fact is you rise as quickly as Obama did in politics only with the support of big money. So I expected no differences from the Corporate Presidency of Bill Clinton. Obama could have made that sharp left turn given the enthusiasm of his followers to vote for him. Obama’s Agenda if there was one went up in smoke, but after all his campaign was smoke and mirrors any way.

    By 2010 after two years of being a punching bag for “birthers” and other assorted Reptilian Politicians and Media Gas Bags Obama’s core simply failed to vote. Obama was revealed as a Hollow Man.

    Obama could have sent teams of experts to examine the health care systems of Western Europe, Canada and Japan, then cherry pick the best of parts of them. But no we get Corporate-Obama Care.

    Not satisfied with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, now Obama seems to determined to find away to attack Iran. Vulture Capitalists take full advantage of this by speculating the cost of oil will go up.

    Bottom line the God, Guns and Birther voters will be out in force this election year. Romney may not be their first choice, but the urge to dump Obama will trump any doubts about Romney. Romney will come across in any debate as Rombotic similar to a Borg with out all the paraphernalia. His voters won’t worry after they live in world of sound bites.

    Perhaps our choice is the same the ancient Romans had between Pompey and Caesar.

  8. @Whimsical said: “Dropping out of the system does nothing other than lead to atroticies like the past two years. Their only hope is re-engagment with the system in massive numbers.”

    Atrocities? Re-engagment with the system? Christ, how can you stand yourself Whimsical? I’ve heard of ass-sucking authoritarian types before, but you take the cake. You don’t just have a brown nose, your nose is stuffed with shit. It’s running down your chin too.

  9. 1. Obama’s current platform is primarily: Osama is dead and GM is alive!!!

    2. Add to that: The PPACA will finally force all those deadbeats who now get free healthcare at emergency rooms to pay their fair share. Or, for those who prefer a different lie, that the PPACA is bringing US healthcare up as close to the best in the world as was politically possible, instead of 37th as it was under Bush, Jr and his predecessors.

    3. Add to that Al Smith.


    I wonder about #1, why 2 May 2011? Mainly, it seemed, just to kick off the fund-raising. It almost looked as if Obama planned to lose, but wanted to raise as much money as he could for the campaign, money he’d get to keep. But he seems to be spending the money, and spending it effectively. And he’s keep the memory of the assassination alive with help from the Democratic Press like the Times, who accept the official administration analysis of what Seal Team 6 found at Osama’s ‘multi-million dollar mansion’: ‘plans’, days from execution, that would have killed millions of Americans had not Obama sent the Seals just in the nick of time. And this will be pressed hard as November approaches, and strongly supported as factual by the Times et al.

    I also wonder about #2, since about half of Americans are sceptical of the PPACA, in spite of all the Times staff can do. But that means about half of voters must agree with the Times staff that the PPACA not only eliminates deadbeats, but will provide Americans with the best healthcare in the world, covering all those who formerly suffered from lack of access to medical care. And for those who see a contradiction between the ‘deadbeat’ argument and the ‘now allows full access to healthcare for all Americans argument’, you’re using outmoded Aristotelian logic.

    Finally, Obama is the incumbent, so, as others have pointed out, he can take any initiative at any time that he thinks will help him win re-election.

    So, if Mr Rall is really betting against Obama, he’s getting great odds from the bookies.

  10. @ex

    Aww, poor little plant. Am I disrupting your plans for a “Gwoious Wevolution”?


  11. Ted Rall: About the only major factor working for Obama is the presidential debates. Romney doesn’t stand a chance against the cool, articulate Obama.

    That’s an understatement! But then, Romney would have trouble holding his own against an eggplant.

    The best shot the GOP would have is to ditch Romney and run a sack of unlaundered gym socks against Obama. At least the smell might throw Obama off his game.

  12. alex said: “Obama’s handlers see Martin as a conveniently dead black boy whose utility for the campaign will be evaluated.”

    “WILL BE”? Try “has been” evaluated, and they’ve reached and are acting upon their conclusions rather quickly. That’s why the only two words you see together more than “Trayvon Martin” plastered everywhere are “Hunger Games”.

    It’s a sick, sick world…

  13. Obama wins in a walk unless the 1% needs more steel in their Chief Executive Thug, the better to beat the proles back into line. Obama follows orders and the 1% has been getting everything they want from their hire. The tipping point of Obama’s fate isn’t inside the political class, but out in the streets. If a serious revolt takes shape, Obama will get the hook.

    Obama may be an Ivy League shit-heel continuing the wholesale damage of his predecessors, but if the cruelty needs ramping up, the 1% will put a Mormon at the helm: a greedhead second to none in obedience, who will make Obama’s Double-Stuf Oreo act look like a 350 lb. tweaker in drag. Romney will put the American public in a cage on top of Air Force One.

    It’s better that we work at dismantling this fucked-up system than worry too much who’s president. If things go well, Barry, Michelle, and the kids will be living at a four-star hotel in Paris, insisting to any diplomats that will have them that, yes, he is still president, and do they have a few bucks to spare?

  14. We are forgetting women voters.
    A recent NY Times/CBS poll found that women voters approve of Obama’s job performance by a 53%
    to 38 % margin and he has an 18 point advantage over Romney among women.
    I think Limbaugh’s attacks, the invasive ultrasound bills and general Republican war against women have made women wake up to the reality of the onerous Republican policies. Obama’s campaign is working hard to mobilize women to vote for him.

  15. Y’all are a bunch of lazy defeatists who are getting what you deserve.

    News Flash: Incumbent is a sellout, Challenger is going to be a sellout too. DUH.

    As we know, the two party system is the mechanism by which our government has been fully corrupted. I think the last time I heard anyone really dispute this was sometime in the mid 1990’s. But fixing it is such a daunting task, we just sit on our ass and complain.

    Its great to laugh about the dysfunctional system but it isn’t just a first step. If you never move past the first step, you will never get anywhere.

    Starting today, if you don’t make a serious effort to change, you lose complaining rights. And not the McDonalds version of “Hope” and “Change” that we gorged ourselves on 4 years ago. The real thing.

    Lazy defeatists.

  16. I agree with you, Petey- all this talk of a fantasy revolution that will not happen in our lifetimes is just a way to justify inaction. “Oh, _I_ don’t have to do anything! Everybody is going to revolt!”