More Than a Bad Monday

Everyone hates Mondays. The weekend is over and the world is now a dull and tiresome place. Students shuffle back into the same old classroom and slouch into their assigned seats and assume a sullen attitude, if they have enough energy for that or even care, not even knowing that their teacher feels just the same way. But teachers are paid to be enthusiastic, or approximate something like enthusiasm, so life goes on, much as before. Others return to the office. They might do something useful by two in the afternoon, but whatever it is can usually wait until Tuesday morning. It takes time to get back in the groove. Mondays are the day when everything looks dreary and rather hopeless. It just comes with the day. Coffee helps, along with avoiding chirpy optimists suggesting it’s the wonderful morning of a new day at the start of a wonderful new week and everyone, yes everyone should now smile. Those who never thought of murder before now do.

The Monday after the political conventions might have been like that for Mitt Romney, even if politicians, like teachers, are expected to be enthusiastic, or to approximate something like enthusiasm – because they’re going to win and fix the world and everyone will be happy and they’ll be heroes and all the rest. But this one Monday wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows for Mitt Romney:

President Obama’s standing in the national presidential race has improved after a well-received Democratic National Convention, according to a new national poll from CNN.

Obama leads Mitt Romney 52 percent to 46 percent among likely voters. In CNN polling from a week ago, after the Republican National Convention, both candidates were tied at 48 percent.

It was the conventions. Romney got no bounce from his. Obama got a real bounce from his. And it wasn’t supposed to be like that. If fact, Kevin Drum has the actual numbers and looks at them in detail and charts an actual Romney negative-bounce:

By the end of the week the dust should have cleared and we’ll have a better idea of whether this holds up and what the new baseline is. But early returns sure suggest that the RNC was a bust and the DNC was a hit. Either that or the press corps and the electorate are finally waking up to just how comically deceptive and calculatedly nebulous the Romney/Ryan campaign is. I guess it could be either one.

If it’s that latter then that calls for countermeasures, and they were quickly deployed:

President Obama’s standing in the national race ticked up after a successful Democratic convention, but that’s no cause for concern, Mitt Romney’s pollster Neil Newhouse said in a memo released Monday morning.

“Don’t get too worked up about the latest polling,” Newhouse wrote. “While some voters will feel a bit of a sugar-high from the conventions, the basic structure of the race has not changed significantly.”

Those numbers were just noise, so don’t believe them:

He offered a point-by-point refutation of what seemed to be a sizable Obama bounce – especially for a race that has barely changed in months. While the memo did not cite many specific post-convention polls to justify its claims, Newhouse argued that Romney’s original strategy of highlighting the rough economy would turn things around. At times, he made it sound as if this had already happened.

“Today, there is no question: Americans are not better off than we were four years ago, and that is why President Obama has struggled in this race,” Newhouse wrote. “The truth is that some of President Obama’s allies are claiming victory, but others are acknowledging the unsustainable position in which they find themselves.”

Newhouse has no real data, but he just knew. Jimmy Carter led Ronald Reagan by a double digit margin late in the fall long ago after all, and Reagan won. And Newhouse also claimed a Republican enthusiasm advantage, even if he cited a pre-convention poll. Don’t let the new data fool you. And of course there was this reaction:

Newhouse’s memo elicited a swift response from Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod, who tweeted, “Anyone else find it odd that Mitt’s pollster put out a state-of-the race memo this morning that was almost entirely devoid of polling data?”

That is curious. But Josh Marshall suggests that some else might be going on here, with a basic flaw being exposed:

On a morning when newspapers across the country are splashed with a feel-good image of President Obama getting man-hugged by a burly Florida restaurant owner, Mitt Romney is embroiled in a bizarre controversy over unfurling, seemingly, three or four different and contradictory positions on ‘Obamacare’ and the fate of people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Some of this is a sign of a disorganized campaign (one I suspect was caught off guard by the potency of the Democratic convention) and some is new evidence of Romney’s ingrained flipfloppery. But some of it, I suspect, goes to the heart of the candidate in a different way.

Marshall sees more than a bad-Monday problem:

There have been many signs over the course of this long campaign that Romney remains very proud of his role bringing health care reform to Massachusetts. As well he should. It is far and away his best claim, ironically, to the presidency. While the national political process was gridlocked on an issue of critical import to the country, he brought both parties together to push through a reform that went a big way toward addressing it in his state. It was (rightly) seen as a model for national reform. And sure enough, within a few years, it was passed nationwide. I think Romney will lose in November. And, long term, I think this will be his political epitaph.

In any case, he still thinks it’s awesome. But of course his entire campaign has been based on squelching those feelings.

Marshall says he is not making that up, as every once in a while what is buried slips out:

Remember a short while ago his press secretary got in trouble by pointing out that if those Steel Workers put out of work by Bain had had RomneyCare, everything would have been cool.

It was treated as a gaffe or going off message. But again, I think it stemmed ultimately from the candidate himself. Romney gets the basics of how health care markets function – that you can’t solve things like pre-existing conditions and the rest without having everyone buy into the pool. He has to publicly say that mandates are the antichrist and that the national version of RomneyCare is an abomination. But the fact that he doesn’t really believe either keeps tripping him up.

This isn’t to say he’s a reformer at heart. I have no idea about that. But this is a case where the logic of the campaign has perhaps asked too much of him. He can’t quite let go.

This is casting Mitt as some sort of tragic hero, not a guy having a bad Monday. But given all else he’s been defending it’s just as easy, as an anonymous poster at Reddit did, to cast him as a buffoon:

Vote Romney! He’ll repeal Obamacare, the whole thing, but he’ll keep some parts, like preexisting conditions, but actually he won’t, he’ll keep it but not in the law.

He likes Roe v Wade, but is pro-life, but he won’t pass a law against abortion, but he supports laws against abortion, but not if it’s rape, but only if it’s not secretly not rape. And he’ll nominate pro-life judges, but he won’t ask judges if they’re pro-life before nominating them.

Also he’ll cut taxes on rich people (sorry, “job creators”) and raise taxes by eliminating loopholes, but not loopholes on “job creators,” but also not loopholes on poor people or the middle class, and not loopholes on corporations (who are people (actually let me clarify, they’re not people (except for purposes of campaign contributions))). He’s not going to get into details because if he did his opponents would just use them to attack him.

He’s in favor of a strong dollar, so he’ll stop China from manipulating the currency to maintain a strong dollar, which is causing a big debt, which he’ll make smaller by cutting taxes and cutting spending, except on military, Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare which he’ll spend more on. He’s against cutting Medicare, because that’s what Obama is doing and he’ll repeal Obama cutting Medicare, but he’ll cut Medicare (sorry, “entitlement reform”), but not Obama’s cutting Medicare different cutting Medicare. And the older generation is running up the deficit at the expense of younger people, which he’ll fix by cutting benefits for younger people (it’s not cutting Medicare, it’s just having Medicare give out less money than before). And he’s in favor of the individual mandate, which is why he’ll repeal it once in office. And he didn’t want to bail out GM, because he secretly did want to bail out GM. But three things he’ll NEVER DO are “apologize for America,” let cancer patients smoke weed, and release his tax returns.

Vote Romney!

That anonymous comment was all over the web on the Monday after the conventions. Drum did say something about how comically deceptive and calculatedly nebulous the Romney-Ryan campaign is. This is more than a bad Monday, and that raises the question of how things could go so bad so quickly. Marc Ambinder assesses what the next two months are likely to bring:

The election may hinge on whether Americans look at Mitt Romney and see someone who isn’t a caricature. The GOP convention was not the disaster that pundits made it out to be, but neither was it an unalloyed success. Romney had a free swing at the bat, and by dodging specifics, asked Americans to define him based on the type of man that he was, rather than the type of president he will be. Both are important, of course, but the latter is arguably easier for Romney to carry, because his campaign fumbled the biographical angle from the start.

Romney’s attack today is that Barack Obama has no plan to turn the economy around and was given a four year chance to do it. But while Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy and tell pollsters they like Romney’s ideas better, they don’t know what those ideas are, because Romney hasn’t really told them. And the Democrats did a pretty decent job defining them in the breach last week. The major danger for Romney: He enters the debate season with voters growing more suspicious of his (undefined) policy proposals while simultaneously not having a good idea of who the guy is…

It may be time for something new, and Paul Waldman sees Romney’s attempt at that:

This weekend featured a strange event on the campaign trail. With Pat Robertson seated behind him at a speech in Virginia – that’s the guy who says God personally warns him about upcoming world events, believes the September 11 attacks were divine punishment for homosexuality, and thinks feminism leads to witchcraft – Mitt Romney got his culture war on. Romney recited the Pledge of Allegiance and thundered, “The pledge says ‘under God.’ I will not take God out of the name of our platform. I will not take God off our coins and I will not take God out of my heart.” So fear not, America: As long as Mitt Romney becomes president, your pennies and nickels will be safe from creeping atheism.

This may tell us more about Romney’s strategy for winning Virginia – a state divided between a conservative, rural southern part and a liberal, suburban northern part – than it does about his strategy for winning the country as a whole. But when Romney makes such an appeal, it only serves to remind us how rare it is. Of course Romney’s primary focus on the economy is dictated by conditions in the country, and the fact that an incumbent president struggling with unemployment over 8 percent really ought to be doomed. But it’s also true that if there were potential customers for fist-shaking attacks about “God, guns, and gays,” as the old Republican playbook had it, Romney would be moving much more aggressively to exploit that market. But he isn’t, for one big reason: Liberals have won the culture war.

Waldman admits that thesis is debatable, but he has a point:

At its heart, culture war politics isn’t about issues; it’s about identity. The culture war has always boiled down to a simple idea: Our party is with you, and the other party is alien and threatening. They’re just a different kind of people, people who don’t share your values, see the world in the same way you do, or want what you want. If they could, they’d twist the country you love into something unrecognizable and downright horrifying.

Make no mistake. Mitt Romney is still making that argument about Barack Obama and the Democrats. But he isn’t doing it on the issues his party used to. Instead, he’s trying – without enough success, to judge by the latest polls – to make that argument revolve around economics.

That goes something like this:

If it’s no good telling the voters that Democrats are alien because they don’t hate gay people, better to say that Democrats are alien because they hate capitalism. After all, that’s where the Republican ruling class’ hearts were all along. Nobody really thinks that the likes of [David] Brooks or William Kristol really care deeply about abortion and guns. No, it’s economics, and in particular enhancing the wealth and privileges of the upper classes, that gets them up in the morning.

And thus we have Mitt Romney:

Ask yourself this: What could you say for sure that Mitt Romney really believes? He’s changed his position on so many things to appeal to the GOP base that not even Republicans themselves think that deep down in his heart he hates the Affordable Care Act or Roe v. Wade or cap and trade the way they do. (They’ve made peace with this fact. What matters to them isn’t that he believes the party line, but that he’ll have no choice but to stick to it. In other words: acts, not faith.) But we can all agree that if there’s one thing Mitt Romney truly believes in, it’s Republican economic policy. He may change his tune on abortion or gay rights, but he has never turned his back on tax cuts and deregulation, and he never will. He is a plutocrat to the bone.

So don’t be fooled:

It’s a little safer to be pro-God, so he’ll go down to Pat Robertson’s territory and defend the religiosity of our coinage. But as soon as he walks off that stage, you can be sure he’ll quickly be returning to his arguments about the glory of capitalism and the unparalleled virtue of “job creators.” Not only is it more likely to win him votes, it’s where his heart has always been.

It’s just that that sort of thing isn’t selling well this year. The bad Monday was not an anomaly. It’s all bad Mondays from here on out, which Peter Beinart attributes to an odd ghost:

Mitt Romney is not a great candidate; Barack Obama is a better one. But without the Bush legacy, Romney would be leading this race. His problem is that except among staunch conservatives, Bush has so hurt the GOP’s brand that Romney doesn’t look like the fresh economic fix-it man that Republicans want to portray him as. Instead, it’s all too easy for Democrats to paint him as George W. Bush the 3rd, just as they painted John McCain as George W. Bush the 2nd.

This is difficult:

Romney has tried to handle the Bush legacy the same way McCain did: by ignoring it. When Republicans convened in late August in Tampa, as in Minneapolis in 2008, Bush was not there. But in campaigns, ignoring your weaknesses rarely makes them go away. While at their convention Republicans tried to pretend that the Bush presidency never happened, the Obama campaign handed Bill Clinton the microphone and allowed him to define the race as Obama-Clinton versus Romney-Bush. The GOP, in Clinton’s narrative, creates economic messes. Democrats clean them up.

Andrew Sullivan flags that and adds this:

I think Clinton got Americans remembering again – and when it comes to the debt-building, war-mongering GOP – shuddering.

That may be so, but in Foreign Policy, Daniel Drezner toys with the idea that “maybe, just maybe, foreign policy will matter a little bit during this election” – but probably “not in a way that helps Mitt Romney” much at all:

If the economy doesn’t produce the national poll movements that the Romney campaign wants, they’ll have to shift to secondary issues. For the last forty years, the GOP has been able to go to foreign policy and national security. If Romney does that this time, however, he’ll alienate the very independents he needs to win.

The idea that we should have a few more major wars, soon, has limited appeal. There’s William Kristol at the Weekly Standard and John McCain, and everyone with an hour-long show at Fox News of course, and… maybe somebody. Drezner senses the risk in trying to get all subtle and thoughtful here, suggesting only a few new wars, maybe just with Iran and Syria perhaps:

Could Romney/Ryan simply retool their foreign policy message for the general election to allay the concerns of independents and undecideds? No, I don’t think they can. For one thing, it’s simply too late to rebrand. For another, when cornered on these questions they seem to like doubling down on past statements. Finally, I get the sense that one reason Romney sounds so hawkish is because the campaign thinks it’s a cheap way to appeal to the GOP base. Deviating from that script to woo the undecideds will only fuel suspicion of Romney’s conservative bona fides.

Romney and Ryan are trapped again. It’s all very tricky. Kevin Drum in this item cites Mitt Romney on Meet the Press responding to criticism that he failed to say anything at all about Afghanistan in his acceptance speech:

I find it interesting that people are curious about mentioning words in a speech as opposed to policy. And so I went to the American Legion the day before I gave that speech. I went to the American Legion and spoke with our veterans there, and described my policy as it relates to Afghanistan and other foreign policy and our military. I’ve been to Afghanistan, and the members of our troops know of my commitment to Afghanistan and to the effort that’s going on there. I have some differences on policy with the president. I happen to think those are more important than what word I mention in each speech.

Drum then quotes every word Romney said about Afghanistan in that American Legion speech:

Of course, we are still at war in Afghanistan. We still have uniformed men and women in conflict, risking their lives just as you once did. How deeply we appreciate their sacrifice. We salute them. We honor them. We respect and love them.

Drum:

That’s why I refer to this as a “secret plan,” to go along with Romney’s secret plans about taxes and budgets and preexisting conditions. Romney wants us to believe he’s got some kind of detailed, deeply-considered plan to change our course in Afghanistan, but if he does, he’s refusing to let any of us know about it. Apparently it’s a secret.

Drum recommends Josh Gerstein for all the details, as if it matters. This was more than a bad Monday for Mitt and Paul. They’ve been found out. Every day is a bleak Monday for them now.

No, wait – things could shift again.

No, not really – now the narrative is baked in. They have both been found out, and all subsequent reporting will be done to confirm what everyone already knows, which is what the media generally does – it keeps the audience happy. Now they’ll have to fight what’s called confirmation bias. All the new stories will be to confirm that these two have no idea what they’re talking about, that they just once again said what they thought might sound impressive. It happened with Al Gore too. The audience nods – yeah, just like we thought all along. It seems some Mondays are the ultimate Mondays. No amount of black coffee is going to help.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to More Than a Bad Monday

  1. Russell Sadler says:

    Your daily post is always a good read, but this synthesis is one of the best — especially the punch line — Romney/Ryan will have to fight “conformation bias.” I agree, Alan. They really do not know what they are talking about and that, is that. Let’s hope enough voters agree in November.

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