Barack Obama is the first two-term president in at least 100 years to get fewer votes in his reelection than he did the first time out. (FDR did less well in both his third and fourth terms.)
That is a consequential fact, completely aside from whether Obama lost the popular vote. It means that the election was there for Mitt Romney’s taking.
There may be a thousand lost opportunities Romney didn’t capitalize on, especially after the first debate when he had shifted the momentum to his side. But instead of playing to win, he appeared much of the time—as did Paul Ryan—to play not to lose.
To me, the most consequential lost opportunity occurred in the third debate, when Romney let Obama slide on Benghazi. As I wrote here the morning after in an open letter to Romney:
But if we awaken on November 7 to a reelected President Obama, I’m going to blame that on your failure tonight to make Barack Obama explain why he claimed that Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans were killed by Youtube.
There were 44 comments on that thread, most of which disagreed with me. Commenters said they believed the game plan was simply for Romney to look presidential; that that’s all he had to do, given Obama’s record.
But that strategy is for Democrats who have the media on their side. It’s not for Republicans who have to battle uphill from day one—which is the lesson to be learned here. Republicans have to exploit every weak spot, and on this particular spot Obama was mortally vulnerable.
Last Saturday, when I read that CBS had quietly inserted into its Web footage some comments from Obama that had been excised from from its broadcast of the interview given just a day after the Benghazi attack—footage that proved Obama had lied in the second debate about his calling the attacks a terrorist act—I felt sick.
Had Romney pressed Obama’s attitude toward Benghazi in the debate, the contretemps would have been a major story; and CBS might well have had to release the video earlier, or risk having it leaked. But instead, CBS could justify the omission on the grounds that Romney himself had elided the issue. Then, with only two days left in the election cycle, and Sandy still dominating the news, the release dropped soundlessly.
Well, so be it. Let’s hope that whoever the nominee is next time, he’ll treat his opponent—someone who won’t be the incumbent and therefore won’t have an atrocious record to run against—as aggressively as he’ll (she’ll?) have treated the other Republican candidates that he beat to win the nomination.
On the bright side, Barack Obama now inherits the problems created by Barack Obama, including Obamacare. We’ll know a lot about how he’s going to approach those challenges by what happens in the next two months. Will he be a doctrinaire
Socialist Marxist progressive, or will he tack a few degrees right in order to save himself from the ignominy of being known as the president who presided over America’s suicide?
If he proposes that the Bush-era tax rates stay as-is before they expire January 1, we’ll know that he understands a little something about the nature of capitalism, and there will be cause for optimism. If he lets them expire—well, fasten your seat belts, assume crash position, and brush up on your Greek.