Political Hay

The Electability Myth

When does the electability kick in? Could America really want four more years of Obama?

By 9.28.12

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TAMPA -- When Republicans, particularly of the Washington establishment variety, start talking about "electability," it's time to activate our nonsense filters.

Recall 1999 when establishment Republican types started whooping up a vote-getting machine named George W. Bush. Never mind that this guy was the son of a noblesse oblige, patrician of a president who, after eight years of tutelage under the Gipper, reverted to non-conservative form in office, in the process piddling away the largest favorability ratings in presidential history.

Pay no attention, the pooh-bahs crooned, to the fact that young W had no visible conservative bona-fides, and that his "compassionate conservatism" (as opposed to the mean old un-hyphenated variety) sounded a lot like liberalism. No, the little men behind the Republican establishment curtain insisted, just focus on the happy fact that this guy is a dead-bang winner, a vote-magnet of the first water.

So how did that work out? In 2000, Mr. Electability got more than a half million fewer votes than Al Gore, who needed Naomi Wolf to teach him how to dress in the morning, and who some of his own supporters described as a man-like creature. (Then in '04 the vote-getting machine barely beat Jean-François Kennedy Heinz Fonda Kerry, who resembles E.T., and is even more foreign.) Only the peculiarities of our Electoral College system and Ralph Nader's ego (remember the Florida 2000 results) put Mr. Electability in office.

W's vote-getting prowess proved an illusion. But once in office, he did prove that he was better at spending tax-payers' money than even Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter in a wind storm.

Now, some of the same gang are enjoying some success pinning the electability tag on Mitt Romney, with as little to back it up as in W's case. All through this year's primaries, Republican voters were urged to stop worrying and support Mitt because he was, you guessed it, electable. It was never clear on what Mitt's electability was based. After all, while Republicans were running the congressional table in 1994, a sweep of historical proportions, Romney was losing a Senate seat in Massachusetts to Ted Kennedy by 17 points. In the 2008 presidential primaries, Romney lost to John McCain. (John McCain!) In the 2012 primary cycle, Romney took eons to outlast a series of flawed opponents. With electability like this….

Now that it's Romney vs. Obama, how is Mr. Electability 2.0 doing? So far, nothing to write home about. Controversies about current polling practices notwithstanding, the race is almost certainly something close to a dead heat now. And it shouldn't be. 

The economy is in a parlous state, with unemployment stuck north of eight percent, and will stay there as long as the command and control policies of our statist president remain in place. The country has an operatic, unsustainable debt. We're broker than a sailor on the day before payday, and the president and his gang are still spending like we just won the lotto. Our rookie president apologizes to Islamist fanatics who murder Americans (and plan to murder more of us) and is in denial about the fact that America has very real and very determined enemies who need to be defeated, not sucked up to. Thanks to an executive branch on regulatory steroids, our freedoms are receding faster than a snow-cone in Tampa in August.

None of this should be congenial to the American electorate, where self-described conservatives outnumber liberals by two to one. For those who doubt that America is still a center-right country (despite the worst efforts of academe, the media, Hollywood, the education industry, and much of the clergy), jut take a look at some of the issue results Rasmussen Polls has come up with over the past few weeks:

• 66 percent of likely voters believe we have too much government power and too little individual freedom (7/16).

• 83 percent favor work requirements for welfare recipients (7/18).

• 57 percent say venture capital firms are better for job creation than government programs (7/18).

• 62 percent put economic growth ahead of economic fairness (7/19).

• 68 percent believe there are too many unnecessary laws in the USA today (8/13).

• 87 percent oppose letting government officials play politics in the marketplace (8/9).

• 63 percent oppose public benefits for non-citizens (8/20).

• 64 percent think too many Americans are dependent on government financial aid (9/20). 

All of these outcomes are favorable to the Romney/Republican side. On policy, Romney and the Republicans have it. And it's not close. So why isn't Mr. Electability 2.0 at least a dozen points ahead of our first anti-American president? (Jimmy Carter only became transparently anti-American after he left office.) I'll give a straightforward answer to that one. I have no idea.

It's no good just to say that the media is in the tank for the leftist candidate. That's been the case for decades, and Americans have often finally relied more on their lying eyes than on what the left-stream media tries to sell them. And perhaps the polls would be more favorable to Romney absent any pro-Democrat bias in sample selection. But not enough more favorable to reflect the policy differential Romney should be benefiting from.

All of this is puzzling, but not yet reason for conservatives to despair. There are more than five weeks left before Election Day (though less than where early voting is already underway or about to start). Mitt Romney is a thoroughly decent, competent man who has been a success in business, in his personal life, and in such leadership roles as he has found himself in. And he's a handsome dog who surely looks like a president.

Romney is hardly a movement conservative, but his understanding of America is the traditional one, as opposed to Obama's post-everything, revisionist, let's cut America down to size one. Perhaps Romney will finally make his case to American voters and pull it out. But right now, Mr. Electability 2.0 is punching well below what should be his weight.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.