As a candidate, Mitt Romney was his own worst enemy. He thought he could amass a majority saying things that would please the crowd in front of him and contradict himself with another crowd somewhere down the line without anyone taking notice. He thought he could offer vague platitudes about his programs and no one would push him for details. He thought he could tell wild fibs about his opponent and no one would check the facts. In the end, he merely fooled himself.
As comedians Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart gleefully point out with regularity, Republican candidates, campaign gurus and the conservative pundits who tout their causes have developed a habit of making up comforting memes disconnected with facts. They may see this as a way to shift reality -- if you say something often enough, some people will, indeed, come to believe it -- but, ultimately, if you play make-believe too much, sooner or later it catches up with you.
It caught up with the GOP on election night. As the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, said: “You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”
In the final weeks of the election, Karl Rove and the conservative crew at Fox News had convinced themselves that the polls were lying about President Obama’s small but solid lead. They convinced themselves that there was an enthusiasm gap on the Democratic side and that young people, especially, would fail to vote. They apparently thought the Obama campaign’s claim to have developed the best ground game in the history of presidential politics was a bluff, just like all their own bluffs. And they could not imagine that Obama could rack up wins in nearly all of the swing states.
Of course, conservatives were not alone in their failure to perceive what was going on. Most of the mainstream news media was also mired in conventional wisdom about enthusiasm gaps and battlegrounds up for grabs.
Here is what the facts turned out to be:
• Romney predominated only among older white men; Obama won 55% of women, 93% of African Americans, 71% of Latinos and 60% of voters ages 18 to 29.
• Rather than there being an enthusiasm gap, Obama pretty much replicated his winning 2008 coalition.
• The Obama campaign gurus in Chicago were not lying; they had the money, time and energy to get all their voters to the polls.
• The “enthusiasm” of the tea party and the religious right proved to be a detriment to the Republican cause. Their wacky candidates, including Richard Mourdock in Indiana and Todd Akin in Missouri, were disasters and their demand for ideological purity turned the GOP primaries into a clown show and their eventual nominee into a pandering hypocrite.
• The Republicans’ silly scare stories about voter fraud were used to justify restrictions on voting that black Americans, in particular, perceived as a threat to their hard-won right to vote. As a result, those folks were willing to stand in long lines for hour after hour in states such as Ohio and Florida so that their voices could be heard. And what they said was “four more years for Barack Obama.”
Democrats do not have the only good ideas or all the brains in American politics, but in 2012, they had a far better grasp of reality.