Saturday, November 24, 2012
Check and mate
The president's most devoted advocates believe that Barack Obama is a political genius who plays eleventh-dimensional chess, always several moves ahead of his opponents. I was thinking about this a lot before the election, right after his bloodless performance in the first presidential debate spread dismay among the ranks of his supporters. Had he lost his touch?
I had been confident of the president's re-election. It shook me to see his Electoral College lead shrinking in Nate Silver's projections and his likelihood of winning falling to sixty percent. I wanted him back at eighty and, indeed, he gradually climbed back up there after Joe Biden kicked off the recovery phase of the campaign with a drubbing of the over-matched Paul Ryan.
In retrospect, I recall the worries I had in thinking that Obama was likely to put Romney away in the first debate. Sure, I wanted a stake driven through the heart of the Republican presidential ticket, but the governor's definitive defeat would divert huge rivers of SuperPAC cash from Romney-Ryan and funnel that money instead into regional campaigns for House and Senate seats. I was afraid that the result would be a solo victory for the president, while Democratic candidates were washed away in a tsunami of unregulated special-interest dollars.
The temporary Romney surge (the “Mittmentum” that horse-race-obsessed talking heads kept babbling about long after it faded away) put an end to my fears about down-ticket races. The Romney-Ryan effort would continue to soak up all of the available cash. Ironically, we have learned after the fact that Romney's vaunted management skills were not equal to the task of using his resources efficiently and effectively. Those monies he controlled directly through his campaign team were often squandered in over-priced media spots costing much more than the president's political ads. Obama's superior bang-for-the-buck may have neutralized the independent outside money that came down on Romney's side.
The Republican ticket was clearly hurt by incompetence at the top, with that negative impact trickling down to the state-level races. Did the president help the GOP fall on its face by pulling his punches in the first debate? Media reports that he was pleased with his performance suggest otherwise. Perhaps it wasn't eleventh-dimensional chess after all.