It has been crystal clear to me, at least as far back as late April 2011 — roughly around the time that he called out Donald Trump as being a “carnival barker” the exact same weekend that he gave the order to kill Osama bin Laden — that our President, Barack Obama, was destined to be re-elected to a second term, wholly in spite of the fact that the primary Republican talking point of the past four years has been that Mr. Obama is a failed president (and, even worse, a weak-kneed leader) without a credible record to run on. (Float that asinine argument past the world’s most prominent terrorist networks — a non-trivial number of whose principals have been taken out by bullets between the eyes — or the multiple millions of employees once again manufacturing American automobiles, or the tens of millions of folks who were previously deemed uninsurable for one reason or another, and see how far it flies.)
Even that far back, it was clear to me that the Republicans were sunk from jump, because after their sparkling A-listers (Governors Haley Barbour, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie), a handful of promising second-stringers (Mitch Daniels, Rob Portman, Paul Ryan), and the reigning king and queen of their solipsistic sideshow (the aforementioned Trump and that inimitable ignoramus Sarah Palin, she who has to write her staunchest principles on the palm of her hand like some sort of makeshift Cliff’s Notes to remind her of what her core beliefs are supposed to be, and she who, on a bet, couldn’t tell a room full of reporters just what Paul Revere was really doing the night he took his famous midnight ride) all declined to throw their hats in the ring, the party was left to stitch together the most ramshackle patchwork of clown-car candidates ever witnessed in modern American politics (Herman Cain! Michele Bachmann! That gruesome twosome of Ricks, Perry and Santorum!) to drag through the grueling gauntlet of their primary process.
Of course, the primaries were just an amusing — or, rather, amusingly frightening — formality, because the 2012 Republican presidential nominee was always doomed to be Mitt Romney, because, regardless of his quite evident flaws — which are far too great in number to list, though I’m certainly about to try anyhow — it was his turn in the batting order, and that party is nothing if not strictly structured with regard to whom they hand the keys to Daddy’s T-bird. (As the great strategist Mary Matalin opined last year: Democrats fall in love (witness: JFK, Bubba Bill, and Mr. Obama himself, who needed all of one electrifying speech to propel himself onto the national stage), and Republicans fall in line (to wit: Romney is perceived to have paid his dues four years ago after suffering a stinging loss to eventual nominee John McCain, who himself had to wait eight long years after being painfully shoved aside for a baby Bush in 2000, eight years after Poppy Bush’s reign as a one-term wonder was essentially the equivalent of a third round of Reagan Republicanism).)
They never liked him, or trusted him, or believed for a second that he was one of them — indeed, to such an extent that they very nearly gave both the stunningly undisciplined Santorum and that slithering lizard Newt Gingrich the upper hand against him — but in the end, the Republicans did as was divinely decreed and cast their lot with Romney. The problems were immediate and immense: Romney is rich and privileged, in an era in which the lines of demarcation between the 1% and the rest have never been more starkly defined; Romney was a money man, a hardcore Wall Street-walker, in an era in which faith in and respect for Wall Street has plunged; Romney’s single proudest achievement as the governor of Massachusetts was a massively successful overhaul of the state’s healthcare system, in an era in which governmental intervention in same has suddenly become anathema in conservative circles. The irony of the biggest and most vulnerable chink in Romney’s armor is as delicious as it is dizzying: eight years after the Republicans literally leveled Democratic nominee John Kerry for being for the Iraq war prior to being against the Iraq war, they have managed to nominate the ultimate flip-flopper, a man who has, depending on whichever way the wind was blowing on any given day, taken every conceivable position on every conceivable issue, social, fiscal, or mineral, under the sun. (Not for nothing did Jon Huntmsan call ol’ Mitt a “well-lubricated weather vane” during the hazy run-up to primary season one year ago.)
Romney’s laughably gaffe-prone candidacy has been one of the most consistently inept operations in the entire history of modern presidential politics, and indeed, the blunders and boneheaded statements can be listed by rote: from “Corporations are people too, my friend!” to Michigan’s trees being the right height to trying to goad Rick Perry into a $10,000 bet on national television to “I like being able to fire people!” to Etch-a-Sketch to the continued bungled, secrecy-shrouded responses about tax returns to those paralyzing 47 percent comments, it’s truly a marvel to wake up on election morning and see a race as close as this one is, given how largely one-sided its triumphs and its travesties have appeared to be.
In the coming days, you’re going to hear a lot of noise from America’s punditocracy about why Mr. Romney has suffered such a crushing defeat at the end of what seemed like such a close horse race. High among the reasons you’re likely to hear thrown about: Hurricane Sandy, which slammed into News Jersey and York a week ago and basically froze the news cycle in place for days on end, and while I’m not naive enough to believe that fact will have had absolutely no effect on what will certainly be tonight’s end result — after all, Romney was essentially a non-entity in the entire closing week of the campaign, whilst the President was afforded wall-to-wall television coverage of himself being, ahem, presidential — I am also cynical enough to believe that Sandy unleashed her wrath far too late in the game to make any discernible difference.
To my eye, there has always — or, at the very least, there has for the last eighteen to twenty months — been one clear fact about this election (with a number of related tributaries draining back toward that one clear fact), and that is this: this race is going to be decided by the people who live in this country’s so-called “rust belt,” which is to say the voting citizens of Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. That’s where not only the lion’s share of this country’s cars get built, but where the lion’s share of this country’s cars’ accessories — your headlights, your seatcovers, your dashboards, your frickin’ fenders — get built. And all the people who do all said building are able to do so today because three years ago, when America’s automobile companies stood on the brink of utter and irrevocable collapse, President Obama and his team made the very unpopular decision to bail out General Motors and Chrysler using government funds and keep the lifeblood of this country’s industry pumping by somewhat artificial means until its beating heart could be restarted. In the days immediately following President Obama’s 2008 election victory, Mr. Romney — who, it bears noting, is a child of the American car industry (in the dead center of the 20th century, his father George was a die-hard advocate for American automotive engineering and successfully served as president and chairman of American Motors Corporation before turning to politics himself) — penned his infamous New York Times op-ed piece, which ran with a staggeringly simple headline: “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” (To be fair, he didn’t write the headline — newspaper editors generally handle that pesky task — but he did write the sentiments that the headline brilliantly and succinctly encapsulates.)
I guaran-damn-tee you this: the people whose vote matters today, to both of these men, have jobs. And they know why they have jobs. They see the choice we as a nation face on this day more clearly than anyone else in any other swath of the country can fathom. It’s a choice between a man who has seemed to understand in his bones the fact that America’s crowning achievement (laying aside that we are a free populace and govern ourselves) has always been that we build things here — it is incontrovertibly central to our psyche as a powerful nation — and a man who has seemed to put his faith in money above all, and who basically told every last one of those workers in the rust belt that only the strong survive, and that those who are already strong carry NO responsibility to extend their hand down the ladder and help those who are weak to become strengthened. Today, this day, the choice couldn’t possibly be more clear.
(A visual postscript: Just for kicks a few weeks back, A — who has been extraordinarily patient with my daily obsession on this race over the past year, and who is about as fed up with the whole notion of politics as anyone I’ve yet met — printed out a blank map of the country, gave it to me, and asked me to predict how I thought each state was going to lean in the final electoral college vote. And like a third grader, I literally sat at my kitchen table with my map colors and a pencil sharpener and painstakingly shaded in hues of red and blue all fifty states based on my gut feeling of how things were moving. That very map can be seen at the bottom of this post. You’ll note that New Mexico looks odd, because I originally colored it red by mistake, and when you try to put blue on top of red, you only get purple. You’ll also note that I put Virginia in Romney’s column, even though the polling coming out of the state has been awfully fluid in the past couple of days, so even though my final electoral vote tally is Obama 290, Romney 248 — and the first one to 270 wins — you could well see the President soar past 300 electoral votes tonight, which might be as close to a landslide victory as you’re likely to see for the foreseeable future.)