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Boom and Zoom Vs Turn and Burn

Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast says that Mitt Romney had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to prove he wasn't an intellectually dead, boring white guy by standing up, just once, for his inner bipartisan self. Instead he blew it by caving in to the radical right. He could have come out and been cool for once; instead he stayed in the closet, clenched and constipated. "Think of it: The candidate will be running on his vice president’s ideas! It’s a staggering thought. Ryan might as well debate Obama this October, and Romney can square off against Biden."

Democrats are celebrating. Are they overdoing it? Ryan is smart. He’ll hold his own on the trail. He’ll talk about the fiscal cliff coming at the end of the year, and he’ll probably make as credible a case as any conservative can make that Obama won’t make the “tough choices” and Republicans will. And don’t forget that he has a grudge against Obama personally, ever since that George Washington University speech of Obama’s in April 2011 when he invited Ryan—and made the guy sit there and listen to the president of the United States trash him. That’s probably a motivator. And the Democrats might overplay their hand. That’s always a temptation when the target is as big and juicy as Ryan is.

This is the way the world looks from the perspective of the Obama campaign. They're celebrating already. At least this is how they want the world to think Ryan's choice looks to them, so confident they are. In their world, little Paul Ryan craves vengeance for the humiliation he suffered at the hands of the masterful Barack Obama when first they debated. It's a world where all Mitt Romney really wants is to swap old-white-guy jokes with Joe Biden, where at least Joe Biden will be self-aware of the irony. "Please grow up" is Tomasky's final advice to Romney.

One can't help but be touched by Tomasky's solicitude. The left is so caring that they not only know who to pick to carry their flag, but they know who best to choose to carry their opponent's standard. And such is their decency that they want Republicans to have a fighting chance. Not win easy over a clown like Ryan with the Mormon missionary bringing up the pitiful rear. That would be too simple, like shooting fish in a barrel. Assuming liberals shot and assuming they owned barrels.

Wouldn't it be too easy? That depends on whom you ask. One of the most interesting things about the 2012 election is that the pollsters have stopped even remotely agreeing on who is ahead. (Source, Real Clear Politics)

Rasmussen Tracking8/8 - 8/101500 LV34446Romney +2
Gallup Tracking8/4 - 8/103050 RV24646Tie
IBD/CSM/TIPP8/3 - 8/10828 RV3.54639Obama +7
CNN/Opinion Research8/7 - 8/8911 RV3.55245Obama +7
FOX News8/5 - 8/7930 RV34940Obama +9
Reuters/Ipsos8/2 - 8/61014 RV3.44942Obama +7
Democracy Corps (D)7/21 - 7/25700 LV3.75046Obama +4

So who's on first?

The inimitable Jay Cost, writing in the Weekly Standard, tries to make sense of the contradictory evidence. "The conventional wisdom in the presidential race is that President Obama is a clear favorite. We hear this from the pundits in the press, we see it in the InTrade odds, and various predictive models built around the polling averages tell us this. But I disagree."

For the last two months, President Obama has bounced around between 46 and 48 percent of the vote in the national polls, as well as most averages of the state polls. Impressive? Hardly. Forty-six to 48 percent is really just the core Democratic coalition, which every Democrat has held for the past quarter century.

The old Democratic party broke down in 1968, the start of a long presidential exile. The party managed only one victory out of the next six; worse, it saw the collapse of its traditional New Deal coalition built on the Solid South, the white working class in and around the big Northern cities, and farmers/ranchers in the West. Slowly but surely, the party rebuilt itself into the coalition we know today – dominated by racial and ethnic minorities, upscale white liberals (especially activist groups like the environmentalists and feminists), government workers, and young voters. It was in the 1988 election that we saw the party coming back from the brink, and every cycle since then the Democrats have enjoyed a floor of about 46 percent of the vote, built around roughly 90 percent of Democratic support, 40 percent of independent support, and 10 percent of Republican support.

If you look carefully at the national horserace polls, you will notice that these are the only people supporting Obama over Romney, more or less. And if you look carefully at the presidential job approval polls, you will notice that these are also the only people approving of his job performance, more or less.

In other words, Obama’s polling right now suggests that he has only locked down the core Democratic vote; what's more, those not currently in his voting coalition tend to disapprove of his job as president. Indeed, the Gallup job approval poll finds him with just 31 percent support from “pure” independents, i.e. those with no party affiliation whatsoever.

When I was asked about Cost's article by a friend, I said, "Why is the information so mushy? My belief is there is a very large element of indecision in the public mind.  What we see is data with a huge amount of hidden variance." A large part of the information has gone where the polling can't get at it. Activists on either side of the political divide are in danger of being blinded by big, bright batches of tight-lipped, grimly committed enthusiasm -- their own base. But the voters in no-man's-land are going to decide this fight, and whom will they pick?

Jay Cost thinks the way that symmetry will break is in Romney's direction. The question is whether Ryan will help make that happen.  What Tomasky's argument comes down to is that by not mushing down the middle on social issues and government entitlements by choosing Ryan, Romney has made it easier for the Dems to pick up the uncommitted by "extremism." They'll come in on Obama's side because Ryan won't promise them Government Cheese.

The counterargument is that by picking Paul Ryan, Romney has decisively broken from Obama's policy path. The selection of Ryan means Romney is no longer running as Obama-lite. He's bet that the guys in no-man's-land don't want Government Cheese. They want a real job. They want a real future. They want to be citizens of the greatest country on earth again.

But that Tomasky even thought Romney would seriously consider running as a watered-down version of Obama should worry him.  Romney "broke" the unexpected way. He confounded Tomasky's conventional -- or pretended -- wisdom, which indicates that the Republican presidential candidate fully understands the comparative asymmetries in their respective platforms even if the liberals don't.

Romney won't play Obama's game. He will play to his strengths: the economy and the deficit. Romney calculates that this will have more potential energy than Obama's coalition, characterized by Cost as "dominated by racial and ethnic minorities, upscale white liberals (especially activist groups like the environmentalists and feminists), government workers, and young voters."

He won't fight the turning game, where the media throws out the talking point of the week and the seminar speakers go out and beat up on Mitt on all the TV shows. He's going to fight at the service station and the grocery story; and at every cash register where the sad truth is largely outside the power of the press to misrepresent.

Was that a mistake? Should Romney have chosen an ethnic candidate to play the ethnic game? Or a woman to play the gender game? Even though they might be qualified for the job? Or has Mitt Romney understood the essentials and showed up with an F6F Hellcat where Tomasky was expecting an F4F Wildcat to emerge from the clouds? The outcome of the choice will be revealed in November.

Also read: Rand and Ryan: Symbiosis, Not Soul Mates


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