I want to get this out of the way at the outset, because it pains me to admit I was wrong about something this big.
But the fact of the matter is that Daniel Z., my liberal friend who has berated my persecution complex re: the treatment of Mormonism by both the media and the Obama campaign, seems to not be as wrong as I’d initially suspected. He has long insisted that I was overreacting, and that Mitt’s Mormonism would not be a major issue. I doubted this and believed that the Obama campaign would cynically exploit Mitt’s Mormonism as we got closer to election day.
Daniel was right. I was less right.
Most major media coverage of the LDS Church has been essentially positive, and the selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt’s running mate has largely quelled the evangelicals who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a Mormon. Could the attitude about Mitt’s Mormonism change between now and November? Sure, I guess, but it probably won’t, because there are no real surprises to be had anymore. Everyone knows Mitt’s a Mormon, and they know the Mormons have historical problems with polygamy and racism. They know that some Mormons wear so-called “magic underwear,” and they know they perform baptisms for the dead. All of this stuff is already part of the electoral calculus everyone is doing. As far as I know, there really aren’t any other wild surprises to be had in evaluating the eccentricities of Mormon doctrine or culture. So even if the Obama campaign decided, in a moment of desperation, to try and play some kind of Mormon card, they’d have to realize they’re holding a pretty weak hand.
So now that I’ve admitted such an error, that may erode your confidence in what I’m about to confidently predict. It shouldn’t. I’m actually quite happy to be wrong on that one, as it make this next prediction even more likely: All indicators are that Mitt still wins this thing, and he wins it big.
It’s almost comical to watch the panic unfolding as the inevitable DNC bounce shows Obama with a slight lead after his convention. Mitt was leading after his convention, too, folks. The idea that Romney’s bounce can fade but somehow Obama’s is written in stone makes very little sense to me. Obama is ahead by a measly 2 points in the RealClearPolitics average of all political polls. Guess who was ahead by 2.2 points in the RCP average four years ago? You guessed it – President John McCain. Oh, wait…
I’ve talked extensively about how so many of these polls are oversampling Democrats, but the other thing overlooked here is that none of them are adding up to 100%. So with a polling average that has Obama at 48 and Romney at 46, you have 6% of the voters still up for grabs. Where are they going to go? Not Obama, if history has anything to say about it.
Romney knows what he’s doing here. If you doubt that, read this article by a Romney pollster – Romney’s beating Obama in money, organization, voter enthusiasm, and the all-important ground game. There is confidence, not panic, in the Romney camp.
Here’s another interesting thing, too. Post-convention, between now and Election Day, the only thing that is likely to move the numbers in a big way is the presidential debates. Anyone remember the Newt Gingrich boomlet where the entire rational for electing the erratic former Speaker was that he would maul Obama in the debates? Ol’ Newt was riding high until he got to Florida, where Mitt dismantled him in the debate before the primary and ended up winning the one primary victory that, more than any other, ultimately propelled him to the nomination.
Mitt has been debating all year long, and almost every debate has been supposedly “make or break” for him. His debates performance have gotten sharper, more pointed, and more effective.
Debates, like almost all political enterprises, are less about actual performance than expectations. The conventional wisdom is that the boring Romney will be overshadowed by the eloquent orator Obama. That plays very well to Romney’s strategy. Lower expectation mean greater opportunity to move the numbers. Remember that in 1980, Reagan was down by eight points before his one and only face-off with Jimmy Carter. When voters got to see the two side by side, undecideds determined that they didn’t like Carter, and Reagan, contrary to the screeching of the Carter campaign, was a reasonable and acceptable alternative. That 6% that can’t seem to make up their minds doesn’t like Obama, but they’re still uneasy about Romney. Barring some unforeseen flub on Romney’s part, the GOP nominee has a great chance to seal the deal in the debates.
So, yes, Daniel was right. Mitt’s Mormonism does not seem poised to derail his candidacy, which, of course, makes his eventual election far more likely.
Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.