Personally, I still think it will be fairly close. And—warning; “to be sure” sentence coming!—to be sure, Mitt Romney could still win. But let’s have some fun. Let’s spend one column imagining that this thing is a blowout. A massacree, as Arlo Guthrie put it; an Agincourt, a replay of those boring ’80s Super Bowls, a Jordin Sparks versus Sanjaya Mulakar kind of situation. What would happen? After we finish laughing malevolently and gloating sometime in December, would it change things in the actual world? You bet it would. I can see four changes, and they’d all be pretty great.
Before we get to that, let’s define our delicious terms here. Obviously, Obama isn’t capable of a blowout along 1972 or 1984 lines, when the losers carried just one state each plus the District of Columbia. It can’t be like 1988, when Mike Dukakis won nine states and DC. Romney will win a lot of states. But let’s say Obama wins all the blues and takes every swing state. That’s 347 electoral votes. And it’s not at all implausible.
But what I’m talking about here is one further and devastating twist of the knife. Let’s say here that Romney really collapses, and Obama picks off one state no one expected: Missouri, because Todd Akin became such an embarrassment, or Arizona—both states where Obama is now about seven points behind. The same is true, interestingly, in Georgia and Tennessee. But let’s say Arizona. All those old people somehow rise up against Paul Ryan. That’s 358.
If anyone had said back in January that Obama would end up with tallies like these, people would have called Bellevue on him. So if something like this were to happen on election night, it would be staggering. Remember—according to the “it’s all about the economy” caucus, Obama was supposed to lose this election! So what would be the result of this blowout?
First, a marvelously amusing recriminations war among Republicans and conservatives about what happened, and it will result in the conservative movement marginalizing itself from mainstream America even further. It will start with arguments over political strategy. Romney was a squish. Romney ran too far right. Ryan was a bad choice. Ryan was a great choice but he wasn’t allowed to be Ryan. We should have gone with Santorum. We should have gone with Newt. Even Herman Cain would have done better (someone will say it!).
The more entertaining part of this feud will not be tactical but philosophical, and already I feel great joy in anticipation of the certainty that they’ll reach exactly the wrong conclusion. That is, Romney will have lost, if he loses, because the extreme right wing led him around by the nose and ruined him with swing voters, but those same people who charted his demise will argue that he wasn’t a true conservative. And within conservative ranks, they’ll win!
Okay, that’s largely a battle of operatives and pundits. Meanwhile, the pols themselves will have a different argument, which brings us to our second effect: the Republicans in Congress would almost surely have to become less obstinate. Yes, there will be intense pressure from the Tea Party wing to draw an even firmer line against Obama. But I suspect there will be more pressure in the other direction, especially on senators, who represent whole states. Your average American is going to think: “Okay, come on, guys, you went hard at him for four years, gave him your best shot, he kicked your asses in a royal way, now grow up.”
We already saw, in one recent Washington Post story that some Hill Republicans are preparing themselves now for coming to terms with the idea of giving in to Obama on upper-income tax increases. A huge victory will ratchet up such pressure.
So let’s say that’s impact number three: Obama gets his grand bargain before Jan. 1. He gets his tax increase, meaning that some Republicans vote to raise a tax for the first time in 20 years. What he gives in return for that is a serious question. Some concessions on defense spending and probably on Medicare. What exactly they are we’ll see. Liberals might be unhappy, but in the mainstream, Obama will be praised to the heavens. He really will have changed the tone in Washington. And he’ll have done it by crushing the other side into submission so that it had no real choice.
And fourth and finally, if all this happens, the political balance of the country changes. We’ll still be bitterly divided, because the people responsible for sowing most of the division will never shut up. But it won’t be a 50-50 country anymore. It’ll be a 54-46 country. That’s a country with a clear majority. Built by Obama. Don’t you love that? While the wingnuts spend the next four years looking for that Kenyan birth certificate, Obama can solidify implementation of the Affordable Care Act, notch a foreign-policy accomplishment or two, and preside over a rebounding economy, and some day my great-grandchild can go see this (conservatives: don’t click, really, you’ll be sick).
I don’t really think this election will be a blowout. But I see little reason to think that’s any less possible than a Romney win. Indeed, everything we’ve seen from the Romney campaign suggests it will comport itself these last five and a half weeks exactly as it has up to this point, which is to say, incompetently. And while my fourth change, I confess, is a tad wishful, the first three are completely in the realm of the possible, even if Obama wins more narrowly than I’ve laid out above. But of course, counting chickens and all that. So after filing this column, I’m not going to spend anymore time pondering the consequences of a blowout. But conservatives had better.