BREAKDOWN

11.04.12

Michael Tomasky on the Coming Post-Election GOP Freak Out

If Romney loses on Tuesday, watch for the right’s outrage machine to kick into high gear.

What's the state of mind this weekend of the conservative outrage machine? With regard to liberals, I think it's fair to say as of Saturday that most of us (excepting your allowed-for percentage of nervous nellies) expect Barack Obama to win. If he somehow doesn't, we'll be surprised and deeply depressed. But provided the outcome doesn't involve some kind of Florida-style shenanigans, in a couple days' time, we'll come to terms with it.

Meanwhile--conservatives? I think that they are certain that Mitt Romney will win and that all information to the contrary is a pack of lies; that they will be completely shocked and outraged if he doesn't; that, if he loses, it will be the inevitable product of foul play; and that therefore they'll immediately start scouring the landscape looking for parties to blame and will keep themselves in a state suspended agitation for...days, weeks, four years, forever. Which wouldn't matter to the rest of us but for the fact that they'll continue to have the power to screw up the country.

The conservatives I read, and certainly my conservative commenters, just can't wait for Tuesday, when the American people will arise out of their torpor and finally send Obama to the dugout. I'm continually struck--nay, impressed, even--by the iron certainty with which they say this, and by their unswerving ability to pluck out the favorable polls (getting fewer and farther between, incidentally) and throw a bucket of ice-cold water on the ones they don't like.

Objective reality says Obama is ahead. But to conservatives, there's always something wrong in objective-reality land, always a reason to claim that the world is in fact spinning in the opposite direction. Quinnipiac has too many Democrats! PPP is a Democratic firm! This one oversampled blacks, that one Latinos. And of course, these objections are never merely just stated. They're the rhetorical equivalent of dirty nuclear bombs. Conservatives on Twitter howl derisively at these polls as if their purveyors are offering alchemical cures for venereal disease.

We're all prey to "confirmation bias," as Paul Waldman called it in his American Prospect column Friday. We look at the polls that we know will be more likely to show the result we want to see. With Republicans, that has meant Rasmussen, obviously, and Gallup. With liberals it has meant...well, virtually every other polling operation under God's golden sun, more often than not, because the simple fact remains that Obama has led in most polls for a year, nationwide and statewide.

But there's confirmation bias, and there's denial. Pennsylvania is up for grabs? If you say so, wingosphere. But Obama's led in 53 straight polls there, journalist Eric Boehlert tweeted yesterday. In the last two days we've seen about 20 different state polls. Obama led in 18. If my guy were on the business end of results like those, I'd be psychologically preparing myself.

Which, indeed, I am anyway. You never really know. The mess in Eastern Pennsylvania could, maybe, so discourage turnout in the Obama-friendliest areas of the state he could lose. Fifty-three straight polls, and 18 out of 20, could be wrong. That many polls have never been that wrong before, but I guess there's a first time for everything. (Please don't mention 1948, wingers--comparing polling then to polling today is like comparing a '48 Plymouth to a new Lexus.)

If Obama wins, the excuses will start coming; the excuses will mushroom into reasons why the victory was illegitimate; then the next mission will be to oppose Obama at every turn.

You never really know. Most liberals acknowledge this simple reality. But wingers seem to know, or think they know. Of course they don't know, and deep down they know that they don't know, which must be a kind of psychological torture to them, and so they compensate for having to endure that torture by putting up that front of absolute certainty, which in turn brings its own rewards whatever the result. Their guy wins, they get to say, "Ha! I knew it all along." Their guy loses, they get to be outraged and blame the blacks, the media, the pollsters, Nate Silver. In a weird sort of way I suspect many of them prefer the latter outcome.

Yes, it's strange. And it's made all the stranger because I would imagine that outside the political realm, most conservatives are pretty reasonable people who accept outcomes just like the rest of us. If their team loses the Super Bowl, or their kid's project doesn't win the science fair, or even if they get passed over for that promotion, most conservatives surely are unhappy, as anyone would be, but they fundamentally accept the legitimacy of the outcome.

But not in politics. In the political realm, we have this hate machine, this massive propaganda apparatus, that tells conservatives that any turn of bad luck is not merely bad luck but the result of a conspiracy that society has hatched against them. Thus, Mitt Romney--whom conservatives used to hate, before they were forced to embrace him--has made no mistakes on the campaign trail. The furor over the 47 percent remarks, the two debate losses, and much else--these aren't signs of his misjudgment or fallibility. To conservatives, they're all part of the broader plot against him, and more importantly against them.

And so, when you look at the world that way, the conspiracy never dies, the rope never stops spinning. If Obama wins, the excuses will start coming; the excuses will mushroom quickly into reasons why the victory was illegitimate; illegitimacy thus "established," the next mission is to oppose Obama at every turn with even greater fervor. Any political means necessary to stop or even remove him will become justified. It's all as predictable as a goose sh*tting. And if Obama does win, it will start Wednesday morning. What am I saying? I meant Tuesday night.