Obama’s Implosion Update

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If you want cheering up, go read Kos. He has some swing state polling that shows that the Obama free-fall may have stalled for a bit. I only note that in the poll of polls, Obama has now thrown away his leads in Florida and Virginia (Romney’s now ahead), and is now only clinging on in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Colorado. Obama basically threw away six months of hard and smart campaigning in an interminable hour and a half. I’ve never seen a candidate do that before in my lifetime. And if a fast-backfiring Sesame Street ad was the Obama campaign’s response to the implosion of last week, I’m not reassured. Seriously: after your entire agenda has been stolen from you by one of the most shameless con-men in politics on live TV, you decide that the way to come back is by playing the Big Bird card? That’s why I’m worried. Romney is now amazingly the clear centrist in this election, because he has now said he will reform the tax code to goose growth without adding to the tax burden of the middle class. It’s a lie. The math cannot work, and I assume that Romney understands it doesn’t work but will borrow more money to cover up the gaping holes – money that is effectively a second stimulus, which is okay with the GOP because all they really care about is winning. They don’t give a damn about the debt as we saw under Reagan and the second Bush. We would be back to Bush-Cheney economics. But Obama was too busy musing about his day-trip to the Hoover Dam to rebut that argument or call it out. And now you see how cynical, total GOP obstructionism works: Romney cheerfully blames Obama for gridlock and plausibly says he’ll now enact much of Obama’s debt commission agenda (except for defense cuts) because he has the votes and Obama doesn’t. You want an end to gridlock? Vote for Romney. We all know Senate Democrats roll over backwards when necessary. I know this isn’t constructive criticism. But I cannot say I feel invested in a candidate who preferred to spend a day goofing off than prepping for his first debate. If you do that, and forfeit the debate, how on earth do you motivate your base to work their hearts out for you? And yet Obama did not lose the debate. For the first time I can recall, he forfeited it – and we are where we are. No sitting president since debates began has ever lost a first debate by the margin Obama did. I don’t think any challenger has ever done that badly either in terms of impact (suggestions welcome for a precedent of some kind). So what to do?

I think he needs to reboot by embracing Bowles-Simpson in its entirety (but he’s far too timid to do that and he fumbled the moment when he really could have done it) and challenging Romney on his big Pentagon spending. Or he could warn us of another Middle East war, if he hadn’t already committed himself to such a war if Iran refuses to buckle. Or he could unleash a blistering attack on Romney’s math. That Big Lie is waiting to be exposed. The Big Lie is that Romney will slash tax rates for the wealthy, launch a new war in the Middle East, increase defense spending and leave traditional Medicare as an option – while not burdening the middle class and cutting the debt. It’s mathematically impossible. I have no idea what the Obama campaign is doing now, but if “Where’s the Beef?” brought Mondale back from the dead, then “Show Us The Math!” might be a good place to start.

It can be done. Obama saw Bill Clinton do it. Biden might begin to turn the tables Wednesday. Many of us have tried to make the case for Obama he cannot deign to make himself. Obama has two more debates to try and claw his way back. I’m still clinging to the hope that Obama is best when up against it, and that Americans, on second and third look, will see what a liar and opportunist Romney is and swing back to the incumbent. But my assumption now is that Romney will win this election now, barring a game-changer as big as last week’s debate. Somehow Obama has to find that to reverse what was a public act of self-destruction.

(Graph: the current poll of polls with extra sensitivity, showing Obama’s collapse as a candidate.)