Over at No More Mister Nice Blog, Steve M. argues that liberals and centrists are getting too excited about Romney's latest shit-step, and that Romney is far from down and out at this point. Essentially, Steve argues that uncommitted voters just don't pay enough attention to politics to understand what is happening here, and therefore even Romney's dead-Ambassador-to-Libya gaffe is not going to completely sink his campaign.
I don't really disagree with any of Steve's points, but I think his analysis is missing a significant piece of the election puzzle. For reasons set forth below, I think it really is not very difficult to envision how Romney's truly despicable attempt to cash in on a public tragedy for his private gain (does that remind you of anyone in particular's real-life business model?) really might place him inexorably on that long slide to irrelevancy.
The issue here, really, is not the remaining persuadable public. As all the pollsters and pundits keep pointing out, there are very few truly swing/undecided voters out there. Romney already starts behind the eight ball because (i) he is lagging in the polls, and (ii) the universe of undecided voters available to overcome that lag is very tiny, historically speaking.
Romney's trailing status has become something not even Rasmussen or Fox News can ignore any longer. When the general consensus is that Romney is down by high single digits in Ohio -- pretty much a must-win state for him -- and lags Obama generally in the swing states, then the stench of Loser starts to attach to him.
As a result, we've been seeing a lot of Conservative gasbags and politicos either start to edge away from Romney or else start preemptive attacks on the "GOP Establishment."
In the first camp we have people like Joe Scarborough, who recently asserted that if Romney loses it will be because he hasn't run a "conservative enough" campaign, i.e., the familiar 'Conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed' schtick. In the second camp we have Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham warning that if Romney loses then the Republican party will try to "blame" conservatives -- as if there is anybody left in that party who isn't already rabidly conservative -- and suggesting that a new, "truly conservative," third party will form in reaction to that blame.
Really, Republicans in disarray.
Then you've got a point Paul Krugman made in a post earlier this week. Krugman points out that Wall Street and the Big Money Boyz have overwhelmingly given to Romney's campaign, but this is at least as much a hard economic investment for them as it is an ideological one. If Romney begins to look like a poor return on investment, they may stop donating or even -- really! -- start plying Obama with a bit of cash in the hope of getting back some of that old pull. (Let's remember: despite the hurt fee-fees over Obama's calling them "fat cats," the Big Money Boyz have done amazingly well during Obama's tenure.) In other words, if Romney appears to be a loser than the only advantage he currently enjoys - the money advantage - might shrink significantly.
And then you have the media. Look, it is in their interest to push the theme of a tight race, but I can't help but think that they don't want to look like chumps either. These are people whose self-image depends absolutely on being members in good standing in the Church of the Savvy. Not pointing out the obvious -- that Romney is losing and flailing badly -- risks that standing.
Add all these factors together and I think you get to the reason this latest misadventure may really end up being the final nail in Romney's coffin: it gives all the ancillary players -- the other pols, the Big Money Boyz, and the media -- an excuse to abandon Romney. To cut him loose before the stench of defeat/backing a loser/being naive and unsavvy can attach itself to them. They can all just shrug their shoulders and say something to the effect of: "We really wanted Obama to lose and we were going to back Romney unconditionally, but after his smirky shit-taking on the corpse of a U.S. Ambassador, well . . . what else could we do?"
The issue here is not whether the low-information, don't-care-to-follow-politics-anyway remaining uncommitted public is going to look at this situation and decide on their own to abandon Romney. It is whether the ancillary players who largely shape these low-information voters' views will, by their own abandonment of Romney, end up persuading them to do so.
I'm thinking . . . yes.