It seems only yesterday that conventional wisdom had Mitt Romney buried and President Obama reelected. Maybe because it was only yesterday, and now the chattering class is likely to lurch to another false extreme.
Take a breath, Washington. That was my lead on Sept. 18, when polls showed Obama opening a lead, GOP strategists criticized their nominee, and Romney's advisers turned against one another. Now, as predictable as a sunrise in the east, the narrative is poised to shift after Romney thumped Obama on style points in their first debate.
Democratic allies already are dumping on Obama. Soon to come: Unnamed sources in Chicago detailing strife inside the Obama camp.
The headline on my Sept. 18 piece was, “5 Reasons It’s Too Early to Write Off Romney.” Here are five reasons it’s too early to write off Obama. These should be obvious, but Washington needs a reminder: Take a breath. It’s a close race, and there are many ups and downs to come.
- We love a good story. Political reporters and political professionals rushed to judgment against Romney because we crave clear, unambiguous story lines. Somebody must be up and somebody must be down. Trouble is, campaigns are messy, subtle creatures that don’t follow convenient narratives. If history is a guide, the fortunes of both candidates will rise and fall in the campaign’s final weeks. Polls will bounce up and down. Conventional wisdom, never so wise, will shift, too. “Wow,” said former GOP Rep. Joe Scarborough, host of Morning Joe on MSNBC, “what a difference one night makes.”
- Obama will learn from his mistakes. He let Romney go unchallenged on Wednesday night as the GOP nominee distorted his own policies and injected some new ones into the campaign. Strategists close to Obama predicted hours after the debate that the president will be more aggressive in the next encounter. If Obama took the challenge lightly on Wednesday night, as some allies believe, Romney jolted him out of his nonchalance.
- Romney will make mistakes. Romney is a flawed candidate who, up until Wednesday night, had run a poor campaign. One debate performance doesn’t wipe that away. Plus, there is human nature: Both Romney and Obama are bound to stumble before the finish line.
- Anything can happen. Let’s say that U.S. forces today kill the terrorists behind the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans. Doesn’t that help Obama? What if such a mission fails? Doesn’t that hurt the commander in chief? On Friday, we get the first of two unemployment reports due before the election. Does the rate rise or fall? The point is, we can’t predict the future. Stuff happens. So it’s silly to get ahead of ourselves and write off either candidate.
- Many fundamentals still favor Obama. Just as Romney has certain unassailable advantages (a poor economy and a majority of voters believing that the country is on the wrong track), the fundamentals buoying Obama did not disappear overnight. Most voters like the president, even if they don’t approve of his job performance. The electoral map still works against Romney. So do the nation’s demographics: Romney is counting on a virtually all-white coalition to make him become president of a diversifying country. Finally, Obama has the power of incumbency.