Shaking their confidence daily

“Oh, Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart.
You’re shaking my confidence daily …”

— Simon & Garfunkel, 1970

If the choice of Sarah Palin as GOP running mate has done nothing else, it’s shaken the confidence of Democrats, and that’s important.

An example I cited today at AmSpecBlog is Nate Silver’s sudden realization that perhaps Obama was counting too much on the “enthusiasm gap”:

It seems plausible to me that some segment of conservative Republican voters had effectively been in hiding from the pollsters, either embarrassed by the performance of George W. Bush (and therefore disengaged from politics), or embarrassed to disclose to pollsters that they support him. Suddenly, with the selection of Palin, there has been a jolt of energy within this group, a release of pent-up frustrations, and they are coming out of the woodwork. If this is the case, then perhaps the partisan composition of the electorate had never shifted as much from 2004 as it has appeared to; rather, the conservatives were either reluctant to identify themselves as Republican, or reluctant to take a pollster’s calls in the first place. (Emphasis added.)

Silver’s observation is crucial for several reasons, but what I wish to emphasis here is that one of the most obvious of political facts — the general long-term stability of partisan identification — seems never to have previously crossed Silver’s mind.

Silver, like a great many other progressive Democrats, seems to have bought whole-hog into the marketing hype about Obama. He’s a “map-changer” who will finally vindicate David Sirota’s “50-state strategy,” etc.

This hype was easier to believe because Obama defeated the once-inevitable Hillary. Yet as the Clinton campaign repeatedly tried to point out:

  • Obama’s advantage in the delegate count was wholly a function of his superior performance in caucuses;
  • Hillary performed better in big swing-state primaries like Ohio and Pennsylvania; and
  • In the end, Obama still failed to win a nominating majority among pledged delegates and only clinched the nomination because of a super-delegate shift in his favor.

And something the Clinton campaign didn’t point out, for obvious reasons, was their own stunning incompetence.

Obama’s triumphant march to the nomination, in other words, was less impressive than it seemed to his enthusiastic supporters. It was this triumphant narrative — the idea of Obama’s inevitability created by his defeat of Hillary — that David Plouffe so carefully exploited with his June presentation to the Washington press corps. “Surgical precision!” exclaimed Eleanor Clift (no fool like an old fool).

Obama’s inevitability narrative was closely intertwined with the (carefully cultivated) reputation of Plouffe and David Axelrod as political geniuses who had somehow discovered a magic formula for Democratic victory that other strategists overlooked.

How overrated was the Plouffe-Axelrod genius factor? A few weeks ago, Team Obama posted a page with the title, “The Next Cheney,” featuring oppo-research material on nine potential running-mate choices for McCain. In addition to the short-list names everyone knew — Pawlenty, Ridge, Jindal, Romney — Team Obama’s roster also included such long shots as Carly Fiorina and FedEx CEO Fred Smith.

Guess who wasn’t on that list? Sarah Palin.

In other words, the putative political geniuses Plouffe and Axelrod utterly failed to anticipate McCain’s pick of Palin, and thus failed to prepare their supporters to challenge the GOP running mate. This might explain why Democrats had to resort to spreading scurrilous rumors, eh?

Maverick completely outsmarted the Team Obama brain trust, miraculously ignited the GOP base, and now — with just eight weeks until Election Day — Nate Silver is beginning to realize that, despite the 2006 meltdown and “Bush fatigue,” the underlying partisan alignment has changed very little since 2004.

The Democrats’ desperate quest for a gaffe or a scandal that will destroy Palin shows the attendant risk of the Plouffe-Axelrod technique of stoking expectations — hyping Hope, as it were — to fuel a campaign built chiefly on enthusiasm. Once that bubble was pierced, the deflation was sure to be swift, and the sudden poll swing toward the GOP ticket was predictable.

What next? Unless there is some big scandalous revelation, or Palin flops in her ABC interview this week, the McCain-Palin momentum should result in a growing poll advantage over the next several days.

How will Democrats react as they see the GOP ticket move even further ahead, with no immediate prospects of a reversal? Check out this HuffPo lunatic’s panic and rage, and expect to see a lot more of it in coming days. In the short term, most of this fear and loathing will be directed toward the usual bogeymen — Fox News, Republicans, etc. But if the current poll trend continues into next week, the rage will be turned toward Plouffe and Axelrod, as the smarter Democrats start to realize they’ve been conned into believing a narrative that was always more about perception than reality.

UPDATE: Just in case some of y’all are too young to remember, here’s the song, “Cecilia”:

My older brother had this album when I was about 10, and I always loved the combination of syncopated percussion and soaring harmonies on this song, a classic example of Paul Simon’s pop songcraft.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: