Panic Attack

As Nate Silver noted over the weekend, four major national tracking polls (Gallup, Ipsos, RAND, and–yes–Rasmussen) all showed Obama making significant gains against Mitt Romney during and immediately after the Democratic Convention.

Although the “bounce” was relatively modest, and as Nate and everyone else have been careful to observe, it could quickly fade, a bit of a panic attack seems to have set in amongst the more aggressive Mitt-Can’t-Lose spinners of the conservative chattering classes. In a pretty amazing pot-calls-kettle-black gesture, Jay Cost questioned Nate’s objectivity. His counter-attack went after the straw man of “Obama winning the summer” instead of the more limited claim that Obama’s gotten the better of the convention battles, and his case for Romney’s strength in state polls depends on excluding the “partisan” PPP surveys but not the “non-partisan” Rasmussen numbers.

Well, whatever; Jay’s staked his rep on confidently predicting a Romney victory every minute of the cycle, so none of this is surprising. More telling, perhaps, is that the Romney campaign hurried out a memo to the troops from their own polling director that is about one-third spin, one-third boasting about the GOP’s money and ground-game (first time I’ve heard them claim an advantage in this area, though the memo actually just compares Mitt’s GOTV resources to McCain’s), and one-third empty assertions that Mitt Will Win Because Mitt Is Good For America.

You can assess this furious denial of a problem as you wish. But what continues to amaze me is the palpable fear and loathing of Republicans towards any adverse public opinion findings, which seem to reflect a sort of self-hypnosis wherein admitting the possibility of an Obama victory will somehow affect the results. Sure, there are some Democrats who think Obama’s going to run away with it all, but not that many; most seem to expect a cliff-hanger, and those who don’t are pretty much keeping their over-confidence to themselves. With a few honorable exceptions (e.g., Sean Trende), though, Team Mitt and its echo-chamber are acting as though defeat is almost literally impossible. It makes you wonder if they’ll be willing to accept defeat on November 6, if it happens. I’m afraid some will be out there the next day, still spinning madly, and that, of course, will be a recipe for a contested election, either in the courts (if it’s very close) or among conservative activists who will be eager to believe Obama has stolen the presidency again!

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.