Like these two commenters on my most recent blog post, I think fervent hope and bitter disappointment are both entirely appropriate ways to feel in the run-up to and in the aftermath of an election:To have so much invested in the world’s greatest contest; I think if it were me and even if Nate Silver had concluded I would lose, I too would be hoping against hope on election night, which would in turn lead to this kind of colossal letdown.Doris Keans Goodwin talked on Colbert Report about how this dissapointment after losing is pretty typical.
But that’s not quite what we’re talking about in this case. In this case, Romney and his team seemed quite certain that they would win.
Here’s a telling little morsel taken from an interview that Robert Gibbs did with Fox News on Tuesday that sheds some light both on the way that the right-wing media portrayed the run-up to the election — namely that Mittmentum would overwhelm Obama — and the way in which the most recent GOP contender went into the final day with a firm grasp of the way the campaign had played out:
Brian Kilmeade said that he had spoken with Sen. John McCain who confided that he knew on election day in 2008 that he was going to lose. Kilmeade asked Gibbs what he thought it meant that today’s election is truly a tossup and few are certain of the outcome. “Is the fact that it’s even this close disappointing to you and others,” Kilmeade asked.
“No,” Gibbs replied. “I think people forget that, four years ago, even though you said John McCain knew he was going to lose, Barack Obama got 53 percent of the vote. That means he didn’t get 47 percent of the vote that day. That’s a pretty closely divided election.”
He concluded saying that he felt good about Obama’s chances tonight and said that every battleground state could be won by the president.
David Freedlander did a piece for the Daily Beast the other day that grabbed some quotes on losing big elections from famous losers. They’re incredibly helpful in sorting out the difference between the hope that one might still win somehow and the certainty that one will win:
Here’s Walter Mondale:
Unlike maybe a lot of people it became pretty apparent pretty early that it was going to be very very hard. Reagan was sort of celestial I would say at that point. We had some momentum where we would hope a little bit. We had a very strong convention. We came out of the convention maybe even, but then it slipped substantially. And then the other point was when the first debate ended, it looked like we were getting a good bounce out of that debate but it disappeared in the second debate. And then the last oh, couple of weeks before the election I was just campaigning hard to do as well as I could. I wasn’t preparing my inaugural address. And I think most of us knew that. I didn’t want a collapse that would hurt Democrats who were running for other offices. So I would say there was a not a lot of dreaming going on there in those days. It wasn’t like now when you are fighting over one-tenth of one percent. We didn’t have any of that.
Here’s Bob Dole:
In our case we knew we were in trouble, but you still hope that lightning might strike, that something happens and you can pull it off. If you don’t keep a stiff upper lip, you will start losing all of your good supporters. If you don’t remain optimistic, what are the odds that people around you will?
We did a 96-hour all nighter—I see Obama did a 48-hour all nighter, well, we did 96 hours in ’96, where we could rev up the troops in places we visited. And also, I had in the back of my mind that I may lose but I didn’t want to take a bunch of senators, House members with me. But I wasn’t worried about keeping up appearances.
Here’s Michael Dukakis:
You never stopped even though I thought I blew the election by not responding to the Bush attack campaign. It turned out to be the biggest mistake I ever made. You knew going in that it was going to be you or the other guy. I knew I wasn’t ahead but thought I had a shot, and in fact we were closing fairly rapidly until the Boston Herald—no friend of mine—ran an edition the Thursday before the election, and the headline was “What a Mess.” By that time the recession was having an impact on the state, and that headline was about me. And Bush held it up at a press conference and the closing of the gap stopped. It didn’t mean we didn’t keep working.
If you go back and look at what Mondale, Dukakis, Dole, and McCain all say, it’s very clear these politicians knew they would lose but continued to hope otherwise. If you go back and look at what happened with Romney, it’s very clear he was convinced he would win. Indeed, the Fox News interview with Gibbs is telling once again because — if you look carefully at the wording — the interviewers are all suggesting that it’s Obama who should feel like John McCain felt on the last day of the 2008 campaign, not Romney.
Is this just a case of excessive optimism, of the mentality that determination and a gut feeling matter more than polling data? Or is this really about the way in which a fairly large segment of the American Right engages in a sort of disbelief whenever confronted by unpleasant truths?
More and more, I’m inclined to think it’s the latter.