The Problematic “Magic Vote”

Just read two very interesting pieces–Jonathan Chait’s “case for Obama” column, and John Dickerson’s Slate piece on last-minute undecided voters–and reached a somewhat depressing conclusion: the election may hinge on voters who are disappointed with Obama because he didn’t perform the magic trick of overcoming partisanship in Washington, and/or who are hopeful Mitt Romney can perform the magic trick of overcoming partisanship in Washington. For all I know, these are the same people, but they are really missing just about everything important that’s happened in politics and government over the last four years.

Like Chait, I think Obama’s done a remarkable job of achieving what he campaigned on in 2008 with the exception of the challenges he could not have possibly anticipated, and also the “transcending partisanship” pledge, which was never an achievement that was under his control (and which was never the centerpiece of his campaign that it has been made out to be in retrospect). And like Chait, I understand the vote for Romney from those who never shared his policies to begin with and still don’t, but would argue a Romney vote from those who are “disappointed” flows from disappointment with the economic conditions and political system Obama inherited (exacerbated in both cases by the decision of the GOP to oppose every breath he took).

And you know what? None of that has changed. The next president, whoever he is, will deal with a troubled economy he didn’t create and with a Republican Party determined to reject compromise. Some of Dickerson’s undecided voters seem eager to believe Romney will stab his party in the back and yet somehow drag it into the very compromises Republicans hate, achieving the bipartisan magic that eluded Obama, based on little more than anachronistic perceptions of him when he was running for office in a liberal state and then just a few weeks of rhetorically asserting an interest in bipartisanship.

What’s most striking about voters who are disappointed in Obama but hopeful about Romney is that they are ignoring the same fixed point in a turning world: the Republican Party as it exists today, not as they want it to exist or as it might have existed in an increasingly distant past. They can’t wish it away, and they sure as hell can’t vote it away by supporting the Republican candidate for president. You’d think this would be pretty obvious, but I suppose there’s a small child and an undecided voter in each of you that wants to believe in magic.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.