Mitt Romney was far from being the only Republican thinker “shell shocked” by his defeat. So was the author of this elegant communication I received after a column predicting that the 2012 election would mark the end of Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy.”
“You are such a liar. You are not a journalist or a columnist, but rather a whore for the Democratic Party ... November will solve the problem when we kick your Satanic ilk out of our government. May you get a form of incurable cancer and die a long and painful death.”
Needless to say, my pious interlocutor mentioned no particulars. People like him never do. However, my intuitions proved correct: As far as the Electoral College is concerned, the GOP has turned into a strictly Confederate/Cow State party.
In the short term, stunned disbelief and futile posturing are apt to prevail. Why change what’s never worked since 1865?
But the rest of us shouldn’t feel too smug. The nation has experienced a brush with disaster. Who’d have guessed that the $250 million man was as vulnerable to having smoke blown up his wazoo as George W. Bush?
There’s no telling what mad crusades Romney’s neoconservative advisors might have talked him into launching.
One expects a degree of competence in a tycoon; a money guy is supposed to be a numbers guy. That Mitt Romney was as deluded about his chances as Karl Rove, Dick Morris, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Mike Huckabee, Peggy Noonan, Charles Krauthammer and the rest of the GOP Marching and Chowder Society comes as a shock.
Even the Washington Post’s persnickety George Will forecast a Romney landslide. The scholarly pundit opined that even Minnesota would back Mitt. Will reasoned that a marriage amendment would bring out hordes of Michele Bachmann supporters.
Final tally: Obama 53 percent, Romney 45 percent — Minnesota’s tenth consecutive Democratic presidential vote. Not even close.
Adepts of the Fox News infotainment cult ought to be asking themselves tough questions. “On the biggest political story of the year,” writes The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf, “the conservative media just got its [posterior] handed to it by the mainstream media. And movement conservatives, who believe the MSM is more biased and less rigorous than their alternatives, have no way to explain how their trusted outlets got it wrong, while The New York Times got it right. Hint: The Times hired the most rigorous forecaster it could find.”
His name is Nate Silver, a number-crunching whiz-kid who came to politics after helping to revolutionize baseball stats. His FiveThirtyEight blog aggregates and analyzes data from as many state and national polls as he can find — operating on the principle that the larger the sample, the smaller the margin of error.
In 2008, Silver called 49 of 50 states correctly.
Any poll can be wrong. However, if 18 out of 20 polls show Obama leading in Iowa, then there’s a high probability he’s ahead there. An 84.3 percent chance, Silver thought. (Silver forecast Minnesota as 99.7 percent likely for the president, Florida, 50.3 percent.)
Anyway, as the 2012 election approached, Silver’s numbers showed a steadily increasing likelihood of Obama’s winning at least seven of nine “swing” states, and hence the election. So did Princeton biophysicist Sam Wang’s, whose record is slightly better than Silver’s. Other data crunchers got similar results.
Confronted by unwelcome facts, Foxified pundits did the usual. They invented an alternative reality. One Dean Chambers, proprietor of the website unskewedpolls.com, began his analysis this way: “Nate Silver is a man of very small stature, a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice that sounds almost exactly like the ‘Mr. New Castrati’ voice used by Rush Limbaugh on his program.”
Incisive, don’t you think? Unintimidated, Silver responded sarcastically via twitter: “Unskewedpolls argument: Nate Silver seems kinda gay + ??? = Romney landslide!” A veritable industry sprung up on Fox News and elsewhere arguing that not only Silver but everybody except Romney’s private pollsters were twisting the evidence to favor President Obama.
Why anybody would sacrifice his own professional reputation to give false confidence to a favored candidate’s supporters was never explained.
Meanwhile, like Romney himself, Fox News viewers long conditioned to mistrust any source of information that’s not explicitly conservative took to “Mittmentum” as readily as the sheep in Orwell’s “Animal Farm” chanting “Four legs good, two legs bad!”
Even “mainstream” TV networks attracted to a “cliffhanger” narrative for commercial reasons downplayed what state-by-state numbers kept making clear: Close national tracking polls mainly reflected that Romney had big leads in the South, but trailed almost everywhere else.
By Election Day, Silver’s model gave President Obama a 90.9 percent chance of winning.
In 2012, Silver went 50 for 50. They ought to put the bespectacled analyst out in Times Square like Santa Claus, so Dean Chambers and the Foxified fakers who questioned his integrity can line up to kiss ...
Well, to pay their professional respects.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.