The entire Power Line team has noted here before (several times, in fact) the similarities (and differences) between the 1980 election and this year, especially how Ronald Reagan blew open a close race in part because of a strong debate performance. There’s one other parallel that might take shape over the next few days, especially if Obama has another weak debate performance tonight: the media might start to turn on him.
This happened in 1980, when the media turned on Jimmy Carter for his campaign mis-steps, especially his “meanness,” that is, Carter’s nasty side that had been known to everyone in Georgia who had seen beneath the smile. That’s not to say the media became pro-Reagan; they weren’t, but the media like a winning “narrative,” and Carter, like Obama, unable to give a compelling account of what a second Carter term would look like, increasingly looked like a loser.
Obama is repeating one of the same mistakes as the Carter campaign: Carter and Obama both thought the road to re-election was attacking their Republican opponent and making him an unacceptable alternative. Neither laid out a vision of what a second term might look like; neither had a new positive agenda. The media is happy to play along—up to a point. Today’s media is several steps further to the left than the media in 1980, but they still like a winning narrative and hate a loser, and so they might turn in small ways against Obama.
For evidence of this prospect, have a look at Howard Fineman’s article yesterday in the Puffington Host. Fineman, who reliably spouts the liberal line in his frequent appearances on MSNBC, lays out the potential post-hoc recriminations if Obama loses:
As the polls and Electoral College map have tightened in the last two weeks, some Democrats privately are second-guessing “Chicago,” aka the Obama high command, on everything from basic strategic doctrine to diplomatic relations with Capitol Hill.
If the president ends up losing the race to Romney, here are some of the reasons. . .
Fineman goes on to list five reasons, many of which sound exactly like subsequent Democratic complaints about Jimmy Carter after their 1980 wipeout, especially this one:
Obama’s aloof (some would say condescending) attitude toward Democrats in Congress is legendary, though not in a way that is helping him now. Many, if not most, leading members of his party in Congress have never had a serious, lengthy conversation with him. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been lectured to more than wooed.
From the start, the Obama campaign was a self-contained, almost anti-establishment operation. But when you are president, you are the consummate insider, whether you want to be or not.
To repeat, this doesn’t mean the media will become pro-Romney the way the media became blatantly pro-Obama four years ago. But the “narrative” might change just enough to boost Romney’s prospects. Fineman’s column can be regarded as the media canary-in-the-coal-natural-gas-mine for this election cycle. If Romney continues to surge, look for more “what went wrong” stories about Obama between now and election day, which will not help Democratic enthusiasm.