Can the Republicans accept defeat?
Given the tightness of the race for President, it is understandable that Democrats and Republicans are both predicting that their man will win today. Opinion polls are not infallible, as John Kerry learned when George Bush beat him in 2004.
What is surprising is not Republican optimism about today's result, but the sheer scale of the victory that many of Romney's supporters expect. On the right of the Republican Party, especially, pundits and grassroots activists alike have been predicting that Romney will win by a landslide.
According to conservative pundit Michael Berone, Obama will take a thumping, as Romney prevails even in traditionally Democratic states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Romney needs 270 electoral college votes to win the keys to the White House; Berone expects him to score 315. Dick Morris, a former adviser to Bill Clinton who has drifted rightwards over the last decade, is even more optimistic. He predicts that Romney will take 325 electoral college votes, 'in the biggest surprise in recent American history'.
Over at Pajamas Media, a sort of watering hole for right-wing bloggers, almost everyone seems to expect a blow-out win for Romney, and some commenters are predicting that Obama will lose all but a handful of east and west coast states. If the Republican pundits and activists are correct, then an awful lot of opinion polls must be wrong.
Conspiracy theorists already accuse Obama's team of putting corpses on electoral rolls, taking billions in secret donations from foreign regimes, and planning to bus Mexicans across the border to polling booths.
To understand the gap between electoral reality and Republican expectations, we have to consider the ideological bunker the American right has built for itself in the Obama era. For the last five years Republicans have accused Obama of being at odds, both personally and politically, with the great majority of the American people. Obama's cosmopolitan background, academic experience, and popularity in 'socialist' Europe have all been cited as evidence of his 'anti-American' character. Mildly social democratic policies like Obamacare, quantitative easing and the bailout of General Motors are said to reflect the President's alien heritage and affinities.
Because they have equated their ideology with mainstream America, it is very hard for the Republican right to appreciate that Obama retains considerable support across their country. If they acknowledged that half of Americans still back Obama, then right-wingers would have to recognise that their own political programme, with its emphasis on moral conservatism and economic liberalism, is increasingly unpopular. Bans on abortion, the teaching of Creationism in schools, and tax cuts for the wealthy are hardly winning policies in an increasingly diverse country stricken by unemployment and a declining manufacturing sector.
Democratic activists have generally been able to acknowledge and analyse electoral defeats because they are not committed to equating their politics with the culture and values of the American majority. The Republican right, by contrast, has become convinced that its ideas are identical with those of mainstream America, and that its political opponents are inherently anti-American.
If Obama wins today's election, then the Republican right will face the choice of either acknowledging reality, or else hunkering down in the ideological bunker it has built over the past five years. It is likely that many Republicans will convince themselves that Obama stole the election from their candidate. A large minority of Americans will consider a democratically elected President an illegitimate usurper. The delusions of the Republican Party do not bode well for democracy.
[Posted by Maps/Scott]