Every four years, the race for the White House ends in accusations of deceit. Each side says the other spent millions of dollars to lie and skew the outcome. This year’s post-election accounts of backstage calculations and fateful turning points continue that tradition. But if you read these accounts carefully, you’ll find a happy surprise beneath the spin and recriminations: Lies failed. Truth prevailed.
— The Power of Truth: In the 2012 election,reality overwhelmed pretense, gamesmanship, and self-deception., William Saletan, Slate, today
Saletan goes on to discuss the several critical points during the campaign that pundits say are what ultimately led to Romney’s defeat, including the impact of Hurricane Sandy and of Romney’s appalling Jeep-jobs-to-China ad in Ohio last week. You know, the one that said, “Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China.”
Saletan points to a delicious comment by a Romney fundraiser to Washington Post reporterPhillip Rucker—“A lot of people feel like Christie hurt, that we definitely lost four or five points between the storm and Chris Christie giving Obama a chance to be bigger than life,” a Romney fundraiser tells Rucker”—and nicely refutes its premise, voiced also by numerous pundits during the last week. He points out that Obama wasn’t acting, or looking, presidential. He was instead being presidential; he was performing his job.
Saletan’s article in mostly terrific. But it—like most of the other pundit assessments—fails to mention the actual key factor for why Hurricane Sandy made it impossible for Romney to win: That the public learned of Romney’s primary-campaign statement that he wanted to remove disaster relief and all sorts of other federal programs as a federal responsibilities and place the responsibility for them on the states. The very premise of this surely struck a large percentage of the population as nutty. This ideology was at the very heart of Romney’s campaign, yet most people didn’t know that until a week before the election.
The Sandy effect, in other words, had less to do with Obama’s “looking presidential” than Obama’s being presidential, as Saletan notes, but that’s because the public learned then pretty much what the difference was between Obama’s idea of what the federal government, rather than the states, should do.
Another important factor was, as this article and many others point out, Romney’s appalling ad last week in Ohio about Chrysler and Jeep, but I think the ad’s importance went even beyond the obvious problem that it intended to perpetuate a clearly erroneous fact. Everyone in any way connected to the auto industry knows that Chrysler could not have survived at all without its purchase by Fiat. Everyone who is currently employed because of Chrysler’s continued existence—including employees of Chrysler’s parts suppliers—knows that there would be no Chrysler, and therefore no Jeep jobs to be sent to China, or not—were it not for the sale of Chrysler to Fiat.
So the ad, in addition to being flatly false in suggesting that the Jeep factory in Toledo was being shuttered, made no sense. And it made no sense in a way that everyone recognized made no sense. The ad, although it ran only in Ohio, got lots of publicity nationwide because the auto executives’ stunned and angry refutation, and Obama’s comments in Toledo about the ad, were big political news around the country.
The only conceivable reason that the Romney campaign gambled by putting out an ad that so obviously could backfire exactly as it did is that they already knew they were losing in Ohio and were willing to try, literally, anything.
These two factors, the hurricane and the Toledo Jeep factory, both of them coming in the closing ten days of the campaign, actually summed up the Romney campaign: mendacity as its prime modus operandi,and Tea Party ideology, both of which depend upon a concerted removal from the fact-based world.
I suspect that it will be a long time before another Republican presidential nominee tries either of these. At least until he or she is inaugurated.