Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cancel The Trip: The Echo Chamber

Cancel The Trip To Canada Part II: The Echo Chamber

We are now in Day 5 of the end of the Romney Presidency, and the post mortems are brutal.

Earlier this week, we talked about Romney’s early misstep on immigration, but that’s apparently been solved.  In one of the truly Hallmark moments that are talismans of the upcoming holiday season, several prominent conservatives, including the redoubtable Sean Hannity, declared themselves great admirers of Latino culture.  Antonio Banderas, Ricky Martin (he’s gay as well!!!), Hernando Cortez.  Big tent, Latino vote in 2016?  Done.

Still, that leaves us with 2012.  What happened?   People are asking questions. 

The (really) big donors are wondering what became of their money; many are accusing the Romney team of being incompetent.   If you are wealthy or a large corporation, you might try charitable endeavors and give eight figures to a museum, a hospital or university and get some warm feelings and your name on the marquee.  But a political contribution is an investment, pure and simple, and finding out you spent badly is galling. No one wants to mark to market a losing bet.  There has to be someone to fire here. 

Speaking of firing people, Donald Trump has tweeted urging the aggrieved to rise up, march on Washington, and take back their country from the usurper.  Mr. Trump is apparently still clinging to the delusion that Obama lost the popular vote.

Darrell Issa is demanding an investigation of the “alleged hurricane”.   First witness, the actor hired to play Chris Christie (the original having been sent to an internment camp for the insufficiently loyal and overly ambitious.)

Sarah Palin is perplexed.

And, this priceless gem: “Obama voters chose dependency over Liberty” (Steve King, R, Iowa)

But finally, there is Karl Rove, whose prime time Fox News meltdown is being studied by Method Actors the world over. 

Fear not for Karl.  Plenty of cash, a major gig on Fox, a regular “Opinion” piece in the Wall Street Journal, and an industry all to himself.  Life may be very bad right now, but Karl, it gets better. 

So, why did Karl blow?  Well, losing clearly hurts-particularly when you expect to win.  There were a lot of people measuring the drapes in the White House, and themselves for made-to-measure formalwear.  Karl himself had reeled in and spent $300 Million Dollars, and sat at the very top of the punditocracy as well.  He managed to find himself in a position not unlike Silvio Berlusconi, both making and commenting on the news. 

So, what went wrong?   Well, those few minutes of drama on Fox probably tell you more than stories about ORCA, and the Obama turnout machine, and Todd Akin, and John Sununu and all the other links that made up the chain of the President’s re-election.

Karl Rove was the secret canary in the coalmine.  It’s election night, and the man with his finger in every pie, with access to every bit of exit-polling data, with his vast network of contacts, disclosed and undisclosed, cannot believe Obama is winning.  It’s simply not possible. And Karl is sure of it.

He was not alone.  The Denver Post compiled a map of predictions from 8 conservative commentators, all of who predicted a Romney victory.   Rove had it a fairly close 279/259, but four of the eight (Dick Morris, George Will, Michael Barone, and Dean Chambers) had Romney over 310.  Interestingly enough, the tightest race (275/263 Romney) was Leslie Sanchez’ call. 

Add in folk like Newt (“Romney will dominate with over 300 electoral votes and 53% of the popular vote”), Glenn Beck (321-217), Larry Kudlow (330 with a “sweep of the Midwest”), Alex Castellanos (about 300) and Bill Bennett (305).

Some didn’t do numbers, but as the campaign waned, they all closed ranks.  The red meat guys like Krauthammer and Jim McTague of Barron’s slashed away at Obama, while people like Michael Gerson, Kathleen Parker and Peggy Noonan talked up Mitt’s Presidential demeanor and Obama’s purported smallness.

A few of these folk aren’t experts, and some were just parroting the party line, but most of them believed.  They all repeated the same talking points: the public polling data was inherently untrustworthy because the mainstream media were in the tank for Obama, the weightings were skewed towards the Democrats, Obama could never get the same minority turnout as he did in 2008, Independents were overwhelmingly pro Romney.   

The electorate demonstrated, rather decisively, that they were all wrong.  But why?  It is clear that they didn’t trust anyone outside their own circle.  Selected “reporters” were given diffuse data points by Neil Newhouse, the Romney pollster.  Gallup was rejected when it showed an early Obama lead, and then embraced when it showed Romney with a good margin.  Many relied only on Rasmussen, the public polling organization that mysteriously comes up with positive numbers for the GOP is every election. McTauge dug up a retired Republican pollster to come up with his forecast.  Dick Morris simply added roughly six points to Romney’s totals in each state and declared him the landslide winner.  None of them, for a moment, could step outside the echo chamber to take note of anything contrary. 

They all wanted it in their gut, and they all engaged in magical thinking to get there.  The Obama who bungled the first round of debt ceiling negotiations, and the first debate, was the only thing they could focus on.  Unqualified, mean-spirited, unpatriotic, socialist, weak, etc.  It was inconceivable to any of them that any thinking person not on the dole could possibly consider voting for Obama. 

And so they stayed within the zone, parroting each other’s columns, quoting each other as authoritative, sourcing only from the Romney-friendly.  They closed their eyes to everything else, and, in the words of Peggy Noonan “I suspect both Romney and Obama have a sense of what’s coming, and it’s part of why Romney looks so peaceful and Obama so roiled."

But Karl Rove is different.  The man doesn’t sleep.  He’s not a man of faith, he’s pure operator.  It was his ground game that pushed Bush over the top in 2000 and particularly in 2004, where potential irregularities in Ohio (where Kerry won the exit polls by 4%, but Bush somehow won the state) went uninvestigated.  And when Karl Rove went nuts, and started babbling about how he had people in Ohio on the phone and you couldn’t call the election, a little ice went through my heart.  The Ohio Secretary of State, Jon Husted, has been at the forefront of using any means possible, legal or extra legal, to insure a Romney victory.  Husted had been tinkering with the rules, and the voter tabulation software, literally up to the day before the election. Rove also had friends in Florida (not then called) where Governor Scott was known to engage in some partisan electoral activities.  In other battleground states, Republicans controlled the voting apparatus.  Romney had four planes stocked with campaign workers and lawyers ready to take off.  Karl Rove knew something, and it didn’t jive with what he was seeing on his screens.  Maybe it was too late in the process, maybe there were too many votes already counted and reported, maybe key operatives, for whatever reason, couldn’t pull the trigger.  Maybe it was just shock.  And maybe Obama’s team was just a little too tough, and a little too smart, and had a little too much turnout already public to make it a bridge too far for even Rove’s people.  We are just never going to know for sure.

The echo chamber kept the GOP victory soundtrack going, even in the face of late deterioration in Romney’s numbers.  But Karl Rove knew better.  He wasn’t counting on dreams. 

Karl’s Edvard Munch moment; was it despair, or disbelief?