40 Days of Night
September 30, 2012, 5:00am

By CHARLES M. BLOW – New York Times

Mitt Romney is losing badly. And he has only himself to blame.

Not only is he trailing President Obama in almost every national poll, he’s trailing in almost every poll of swing states.

What is the Republican response? That there must be some magical, maniacal skew in the numbers, and the skew must be a conscious effort by a scheming, elite media to dampen Republican enthusiasm.

There may be an oversampling of Democrats in some polls, but this is by no means universally true. And the fact that Obama has a growing lead when the polls are taken in aggregate is undeniable.

This is just an extension of the Republican war on facts. If you find a truth disagreeable, simply deny it. Call it corrupt. Suggest that it is little more than one side of a story — an opinionated, biased one — and insist that there is another explanation. The base will buy it.

Let’s just call this Operation Ostrich.

The real problem that has caused this very real turn in the polls has another name: Willard Mitt Romney.

It is, in part, because of his convention that didn’t congeal and, in part, because of his own missteps and misstatements, the most devastating of which was the secretly recorded tape of him dismissing 47 percent of the population: “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Mother Jones magazine on Thursday posted a new video of Romney from 1985. In this one, he said that Bain Capital’s mission was to “invest in start-up companies and ongoing companies, then to take an active hand in managing them and, hopefully, five to eight years later, to harvest them at a significant profit.” And what about the people who might lose jobs in the process?

Seriously, Mother Jones is dropping these Romney secret recordings with the frequency of hip-hop mix tapes.

And the Obama campaign is receiving them like manna from heaven. It is using Romney’s own words in ads to brutal effect.

This further calcifies Romney’s image as callous, incompetent and reckless. He is his own worst enemy.

This all makes the coming debates, especially the first one next week, make-or-break moments for Romney.

Debates are largely stagecraft and tests of temperament as well as articulation: How does a candidate perform under pressure, and how do the candidates compare with each other.

That being the purpose, both campaigns are working overtime to lower expectations of their candidate and raise those of their opponent.

In a memo released Friday, David Axelrod, an Obama adviser, said, “Just as he was in the primaries, we expect Mitt Romney to be a prepared, disciplined and aggressive debater.”

But, as is its wont, the Romney campaign overdid it. It released a memo Thursday hailing Obama as “a universally acclaimed public speaker” with “natural gifts and extensive seasoning” who “is widely regarded as one of the most talented political communicators in modern history.”

All the calibrating of expectations aside, something dramatic must happen in the debates, or over the next few weeks, to alter the course of the race, and it must satisfy three criteria: it must be major, new and digestible.

It can’t be subtle policy difference. It can’t be a rehash of a known negative. And it can’t be ambiguous.

If you are a die-hard partisan, your support is unlikely to change. For instance, if you believe in the sovereignty of a person’s body — to make individual health care choices and have freedom in love and marriage — nothing would likely make you vote Republican. Conversely, if you believe that life begins at conception and every abortion is the murder of an innocent defenseless child, it is hard for you to vote Democratic.

But if you are one of the people in the mushy middle, one of the undecided or switchable, you need a clear mind-changer or confidence-builder.

I don’t think Romney can deliver this. He’s a profoundly clumsy campaigner. A Politico article on Friday about Romney’s problems contained this damning quote:

“Lousy candidate; highly qualified to be president,” said a top Romney official. “The candidate suit fits him unnaturally. He is naturally an executive.”

In fact, the more Romney talks, the more damage he does to himself. Romney’s only hope is that Obama slips up, makes a gaffe or some never-before known fact emerges that speaks negatively of the president’s character.

All things are possible, but that scenario is becoming increasingly unlikely.

If Obama doesn’t slip up, the next 40 days or so will be one long, dark night for Mitt Romney.

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