SIMON MALOY/media matters for america
It's obviously too early to know for certain, but on the final day of the 2012 presidential campaign there seems to be a general consensus forming that President Obama is well-positioned to beat Mitt Romney at the polls tomorrow. And in the face of that prospect, some in the media are already beginning to challenge the legitimacy of Obama's reelection.
On November 4, Politico published an article enumerating the "lessons learned" from the 2012 campaign. Among them was the surprising assertion that the coalition Obama put together to win reelection -- "Hispanics, African-Americans, single women and highly educated urban whites" -- is insufficient to provide the incumbent the political capital he might otherwise enjoy were he to have the support of independents and white voters. "A broad mandate this is not," declared authors Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen.
Politico didn't explain why broad mandates rest on the shoulders of whites and independents, simply asserting instead that Obama, should he win, will win in a way that lacks legitimacy. Part of their analysis, however, rested on the myth that the United States is "a center-right country," which certainly helps to explain why they'd view an electoral coalition that excludes the center-right's top constituency -- white men -- as a political nonstarter.
While Politico went the route of demography, conservative pundits are instead opting for catastrophe. Specifically, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy, suggesting that Romney was poised to run away with the election until Sandy halted his "momentum" and gave Obama a boost in public opinion going into the campaign's final week.
Karl Rove told the Washington Post: "If you hadn't had the storm, there would have been more of a chance for the [Mitt] Romney campaign to talk about the deficit, the debt, the economy. There was a stutter in the campaign. When you have attention drawn away to somewhere else, to something else, it is not to his [Romney's] advantage." He added: "Obama has temporarily been a bipartisan figure this week. He has been the comforter-in-chief and that helps." (Rove, who wheedled millions of dollars from wealthy conservatives with promises that his American Crossroads Super PAC would help take down Obama, obviously has an ulterior motive for pinning Obama's reelection on an exogenous event.)
Pundits like Joe Scarborough and Mark Halperin eagerly passed along and adopted Republican complaints that the storm had halted Romney's political ascendancy. GOP insiders like Haley Barbour all but creditedSandy with helping Obama across the finish line.
There was also a rush among conservatives to attack New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a Republican and Romney surrogate, for praising Obama's response to the storm and appearing with the president to discuss federal and state responses to the devastation. The Daily Caller's Matt Lewis wrote on October 31: "The question is whether -- with just days left before Election Day -- Christie should have gone out of his way to lavish praise on Obama, and to provide him with a terrific photo-op for which to look presidential."
The problems with this notion of Sandy saving Obama from Romney's relentless momentum are obvious. As theNew York Times' Nate Silver points out, by the time Sandy hit the east coast Obama "had already been rebounding in the polls, slowly but steadily, from his lows in early October -- in contrast to a common narrative in the news media that contended, without much evidence, that Mr. Romney still had the momentum in the race."
At a more basic level, the claim directly contradicts a longstanding conservative attack on Obama -- that he tends toward fecklessness and "leads from behind." One would think that the occasion of a devastating storm would serve to highlight that supposed lack of leadership. And yet, conservatives are complaining that the storm helped Obama by allowing him to be the national healer for a few days. Essentially, Obama doesn't demonstrate leadership, but when he does it's not fair.
This all fits into the four-year pattern of conservative assaults on the legitimacy of Obama's presidency -- from the undiluted toxicity of the birther movement to the many trumped-up "scandals" of Obama's first term to the claims that Obama won election in 2008 owing to insufficient "vetting" by the press. The possibility of a second term requires new rationalizations (like a patchwork coalition that isn't representative of the country, or a fortuitous disaster) to explain why Obama really doesn't belong in the Oval Office.