A day or two before every Presidential election, I find some red and blue map colors, and shade-in an electoral college map with my predictions for the election. In 2008, I called it exactly right on every state. This cycle, I missed by one—I was playing it cautious and predicted Florida would only just go for Romney instead of Obama. I am not a political psychic. I read from a number of different publications, both online and in print. I follow a number of blogs—preferably non-ideological realists who know what they are talking about (Nate Silver and Daniel Larison come to mind.) I enjoy the discussions on Morning Joe. The one thing I absolutely never do is watch, listen to or read from any of the Fox personalities and their imitators.
With the exception of the close call in Florida, election night was uneventful, playing-out just as I expected it to do. Nate Silver called it exactly right, and had been doing so for the last several weeks. The aggregate of the polls were right on the money. In short, no surprises.
Just for fun on Tuesday night, I switched over to Fox to see what was going on. They were basically sitting there with their mouths agape, while Karl Rove frantically shuffled papers. I tuned-in at about the time the Fox personalities were refusing to admit they had lost Ohio, after every network (including their own) had called it for President Obama. Shortly thereafter, their info babe interviewed one of the house commentators, asking him if he thought that Romney had been too much of a gentleman, not responding to Obama’s negative campaign against him. Now it was time for my mouth to be agape. Admittedly, President Obama waged a very aggressive campaign in his own right. But if there is one constant throughout this ordeal, it was the “Truth Be Damned” nature of the Romney campaign, throwing anything and everything at the President, refusing to back-down when their accusations were disproved by impartial sources, and giving tacit approval to the ravings of fringe wing-nuts. Clearly, Fox has it own facts, and its own narrative, and they have proclaimed it so long that they thought it was actually True. Never believe your own PR.
I had my facebook page open during the debate, posting a couple of mild comments as the news came in. I became aware of the reaction in my part of the world: shock, incredulity, disbelief, anger, and end-of-the-country prognostications. Soon, a faint hope appeared among them—maybe Ohio had not really gone to Obama. After all, Karl Rove thought so. Posts appeared—with lots of all caps and exclamation marks, and encouragements to Pray! Pray! Pray! (In all my life, first as a Protestant and now as an Orthodox Christian, I have never, ever prayed for a particular candidate to win any election. I have always found such unseemly, and not at all the sort of thing I need to pray for.) But the point is this: everyone was completely floored by the course of events. Not only did they actually believe that Romney was going to win, but could not imagine circumstances where he would not. After all, everyone was set to “take their country back.” What is clear is that Fox seemed to be their only source for what is going on in the country, and many found themselves unprepared for reality.There are lessons to be learned from this election. The demographic changes are here to stay. The real world, as opposed to the conspiratorial world, is not such a scary place. Come on over and check it out.
Daniel Larison has it about right, below, and here:
But the problem wasn’t just that conservative media gave Romney supporters bad information. The people in conservative media also seem to have been fully taken in by the idea that Romney would win and would do so in decisive fashion, and the campaign came to believe its own propaganda, too. As York notes, Romney didn’t have a prepared concession speech. It apparently never occurred to his campaign that he would lose. That’s not so remarkable by itself, but it is just one part of the overall pattern of the Romney campaign and the conservative movement’s reaction to Obama. Romney spent years running against a fantasy record and campaigning on a series of gross distortions and falsehoods, and so it shouldn’t be too surprising that his campaign and his conservative media boosters didn’t have the firmest grip on political reality.
When you pretend that you’re running against another Jimmy Carter, and you actually start to believe it, you’re not fully prepared to compete with a sitting president whose record and approval ratings are nothing like Carter’s. Organizing an entire campaign on such flawed assumptions eventually came back to haunt them. Romney and his allies not only didn’t understand their opponent, but they went out of their way to make sure that they misunderstood him, and in any kind of contest that is usually a recipe for failure.