Reality Check

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In so many ways, this is a staggering chart. On October 2, Obama was given by Nate Silver a 97 percent chance of winning. In just two weeks, his odds have sunk to 65 percent. The now-cast for the popular vote is 50-49 percent in favor of Obama. Two weeks ago, it was 52 – 46. Here’s a Dishhead bleg: when was the last time that a sitting president in a re-election campaign lost six percentage points in the polls in two weeks in October? There’s some stabilization now, but that’s because it would be close to mathematically impossible for a collapse that massive to continue indefinitely. If it did, we’d be looking at a Reagan-style landslide for Romney.

I was wrong about that first debate. I was far too optimistic about what would follow. Even in my hysteria, I didn’t believe that one debate would hand an entire election to the challenger. But that’s how execrable Obama was that night. I suppose the good news is that if one debate can do this much damage, another one or two can repair it some. But the trouble is: the Obama camp did such a good job in defining Romney before the debate that his sudden new personality implant – compassionate, caring, realistic, moderate – didn’t just help Romney but also made Obama’s campaign seem deceptive and too negative.

That’s the trouble when you run against a shape-shifter. He has no shame in jettisoning every position he took in the primaries. That was a different market to sell to. Now he has a new market, so he has new policies and a new persona. In office, he will find a new market to sell to day to day. And the GOP base so wants Obama out of there, and out of history, they don’t care that Romney is a self-serving opportunist. He’s their self-serving opportunist now. While Obama’s supporters are either deeply demoralized, as I am, or so scrupulous on certain issues that they refuse to vote for him.

Bill McGurn is half-right:

Perhaps Barack Obama can reassert himself in Tuesday evening’s town hall in Long Island. But his problem is this: In Denver he didn’t just lose a debate—he lost the carefully cultivated illusion of a larger-than-life figure who was Lincoln and FDR and Moses all wrapped in one.

That’s an exaggeration. I never thought Obama was a demi-God. But I do think his steady accretion of policy gains and the new demography of the US gave him a chance to be a second Reagan in re-shaping America and the world. And I remain of the view that his temperament, policies and persistence remain remarkable strengths. And if he somehow manages to display those qualities again tonight, all is still possible.

But the Obama who showed up on October 3 was not the Obama any of us had seen in five years. Maybe a glimpse or two – I sat through a couple of snore-fests from the guy. But on the most important night of the campaign? I remain baffled. You cannot hide a real person behind a curtain for five years straight. So who was that guy last time around? And will the actual Obama show up tonight?