Mitt Romney is catching a lot of flak from his own side lately, which seems premature; this is by no means over. But let me say that even if he does spend election night weeping in his car elevator, his critics from the right are being unfair.
Yes, he’s a pretty bad candidate — but the core problem is with his party, not with him.
What, after all, does Mr. Romney have to run on? True, he hasn’t offered specifics on his economic policies — but that’s because he can’t. The party base demands tax cuts, but also demands that he pose as a deficit hawk; he can’t do both in any coherent fashion without savaging Medicare and Social Security, yet he’s actually trying to run on the claim that President Obama is the threat to Medicare. On fiscal matters, doubletalk and obfuscation are his only options.
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And no, Paul Ryan, his running mate, didn’t show that it can be done differently. His plan was, as I’ve documented many times, a fraud. Furthermore, he’s basically a Beltway creation; the Ryan legend was based on the desire of Washington types to anoint a Serious, Honest Conservative; expose him to the wider scene, and it all falls apart.
Nor can Mr. Romney do the George W. Bush thing of running as America’s defender against gay married terrorists.
First of all, that old standby, national security, isn’t working. Between Mr. Bush’s Iraq debacle and the fact that Mr. Obama was the one who got Osama bin Laden, the notion that only the G.O.P. will defend America is dead for the foreseeable future. And at this point social issues are cutting the wrong way: there are almost surely more affluent women who will vote against the party of Todd Akin than there are white working-class voters who will punish the Democrats for supporting gay marriage.
And underlying it all is the diminishing whiteness of the American electorate. This still might be a close election thanks to the weakness of the economy, and a better candidate than Mr. Romney might have had a better chance of pulling it off.
But the long-term fundamentals are not good for Republicans.
Delusions of Wonkhood
Dave Weigel, a political reporter at Slate, recently had some fun with credulous journalists who are sure that Paul Ryan must be a Very Serious Wonk because — wait for it — he uses PowerPoint. With pie charts!
This is really amazing.
Look, I know wonks. Mr. Ryan is not a wonk. Yes, he likes charts and slides. But he very clearly doesn’t know what his numbers actually mean. When the famous plan was unveiled, it was quite clear that he never even realized that the Heritage projection of his plan’s impact made a completely ridiculous assertion about what would happen to unemployment. Nor did he realize that his assumptions about discretionary spending would require cutting such spending — including defense! — to levels not seen since Calvin Coolidge.
One question one might ask is whether Mr. Ryan is aware that he isn’t actually a wonk — that he just plays one on TV. Maybe not.
Some of what he says suggests the Dunning-Kruger effect at work: he may be so innumerate that he doesn’t realize that he has no idea what the numbers he throws around mean. And after all, why would he, given all the praise he’s received for putting up a line graph or pie chart here and there?
If the fate of the republic weren’t at stake, it would be funny — and painfully embarrassing.