TOLEDO, Ohio -- The line to get into Mitt Romney's "victory rally" here Wednesday stretched up Jefferson Avenue to Huron Street and around the corner nearly to Monroe Avenue. People stood in a drizzling rain to get into the event and, by the time Romney took the stage at the SeaGate Convention Center, more than four thousand were packed into the arena.
Romney's voice was slightly hoarse as he hammered President Obama's policies, especially the deficit spending that has brought the national debt to $16 trillion. "If President Obama were to get re-elected," the Republican challenger said, "we'd have a $20 trillion debt by the time he left office. But he's not going to get re-elected…" The crowd went wild.
The size and the enthusiasm of the audiences that have attended the GOP ticket's rallies during this three-day tour of Ohio have gotten less press coverage than the polls which show Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan trailing the Democrats by a wide margin. It is hard to reconcile the strong turnout for Romney and Ryan with the impression conveyed in most of the media that the Republicans are doomed to defeat on November 6.
Yesterday, Jay Cost of the Weekly Standard asked, "Are the Polls Tilted Toward Obama?" Also, while we're asking questions: Is water wet?
In all seriousness, however, conservatives need to ponder this disturbing hypothetical: What if the polls are right?
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Obama really is sailing on his way to a landslide victory of such historic proportions that he defeats Romney by 10 points in Ohio. What if, despite all the bizarre poll skews that have become an almost constant subject of complaint on the Right in recent days, there actually has been a decisive shift in the electorate? When we think of what this would mean -- an emphatic endorsement of all that Obama has done in the first four years of his presidency and a powerful mandate to continue doing it for another four years -- we are confronted with an event of genuinely profound consequences.
It is easy for cynical pundits and dyspeptic critics to minimize what this election means. Whatever the results on November 6, the TV talking heads will still have their network sinecures on November 7. David Brooks won't forfeit any book contracts and Peggy Noonan won't lose any lecture fees, just because Obama wins the election. Such members of the GOP's professional intelligentsia have never cast their lot with the Tea Party, nor have they shown any empathy for the grassroots activists who are manning phone banks and distributing yard signs, the volunteers motivated by a sincere belief that defeating Obama is essential to the preservation of the American Republic.
Remarkable irony: Many of those conservative now working hardest to elect Mitt Romney are conservatives who spent the primary campaign supporting other candidates in an effort to prevent Romney's nomination as the "It's His Turn" choice of the party establishment. Meanwhile, the elite pundits who spent the primary season nitpicking every fault of Romney's rivals are now the first to raise the white flag of surrender, abandoning hope in the candidate that they insisted was the only one in the GOP field with any realistic chance to win in November.
At this apparent low ebb of the Romney-Ryan ticket's fortunes, with less than six weeks to go until Election Day, the crisis moment of the campaign poses existential questions for the Republican Party. What if, ignoring every warning from conservatives, Americans are indifferent to Obama's failures and heedless of the threat to liberty posed by four more years of his policies? What if a majority of Americans have lost faith in the world-changing beliefs proclaimed by the Founders at Philadelphia in 1776? What if our nation's people have contemptuously abandoned the principles of limited constitutional government established by the Framers in 1787?
Perish the thought. This cannot happen. The Republican Party cannot allow it to happen. There is too much at stake, and there is still enough room for hope and it is too early to quit now. Romney's proven ability to mount turnarounds cannot be discounted by fainthearts and naysayers. The candidate himself was full of confidence Wednesday, and the crowd of Ohio Republicans cheered as he reached the peroration of his speech to the rally at the SeaGate Center, invoking his favorite theme, American exceptionalism.
"This is who were are," Romney said. "The world needs the example of America. It needs a strong America.… The world needs America to lead. Our future needs America to lead."
Romney began a sentence, "If I am the next president," then stopped and corrected himself: "When I am the next president of the United States." A cheer rose from the crowd, and he continued as the cheers grew louder: "I will do everything in my power to keep America strong -- strong in our homes, strong in our economy, strong in our military. We will lead! We will lead again!… I love this country!"
Can the polls be right? Is there no hope left for American leadership? Are we doomed? Perish the thought.