08/07/2012 02:34 pm ET | Updated Oct 07, 2012

Someone Will Win The 2012 Election In A Landslide, Unless They Don't, Say People

This part of the election year summer is a time when the people who write about politics should probably do more "getting drunk in a hammock" and less "gaming out electoral college scenarios," if only because most Americans have taken a break from political coverage and the most volatile part of the election season is yet to come. But whatever, people are bored! And what's the alternative? Have a national conversation about gun violence? Too hard, so electoral college scenarios it is.

If I had just 30 words to describe the state of the race, I would say, "Obama holds a narrow but not insurmountable lead, and the lousy state of the economy offers Romney a better than average chance to win a close race." That would leave me with three words, which I would donate to a worthy charity. But even if I had several hundred words to describe the state of the race, I probably would not describe it as an imminent "landslide." At least not in August of 2012.

But Dick Morris, who primarily exists as a counteragent to Clinton-era nostalgia, is doing just that, because he's seen "numbers" that are more "real" than other, less "real" numbers, and these hypothetically add up to a Romney "landslide":

On Friday, I saw the real numbers. These state-by-state polls, taken by an organization I trust (after forty years of polling) show the real story. The tally is based on more than 600 likely voter interviews in each swing state within the past eight days.

The trend line is distinctly pro-Romney. Of the thirteen states studied, he improved or Obama slipped in nine states while the reverse happened in only four. To read the media, one would think that Romney had a terrible month. In fact, the exact reverse is true.

I'm actually a little disappointed that Morris cited a hypothetical polling organization instead of a hypothetical "Bain investor," because how hilarious would that have been? But the point is this: Morris speculates that it's exceedingly likely that Romney will carry "Iowa, New Mexico, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey" as well as "Indiana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Nevada, North Carolina, and Colorado," and -- because why not, at this point? -- "Florida, Ohio, and Virginia," for good measure.

Morris posits this scenario not because it's particularly well thought through (it isn't) but because he wants to counter "the garbage being put out by the media." Again, I sort of think the media consensus is "Obama holds a narrow but not insurmountable lead, and the lousy state of the economy offers Romney a better-than-average chance to win a close race," but Morris is basically conflating "the media" writ large with a single article written by Michael Tomasky over at Newsweek. (He sort of gives away the game in his first paragraph, where he says, "One benighted Newsweek reporter even speculated about a possible Democratic landslide.")

So, what of that Tomasky article? Well, Morris is absolutely right that the piece has ended up with this headline: "Michael Tomasky on the (Possible) Coming Obama Landslide." But I sort of think this is the work of a headline writer with an overactive imagination because a "landslide" -- "possible" or otherwise -- isn't what Tomasky really describes. In fact, outside of the headline, the word "landslide" does not appear anywhere in Tomasky's piece, which actually describes a pretty generic, caveat-laden scenario in which Obama wins a close election.

Let's go through Tomasky's brief. He begins by putting Pennsylvania into Obama's column. He goes on to posit that Iowa and New Hampshire will also be Obama pick-ups. (I don't feel like these states are done deals for Obama, by any means, but let's go with it.) Tomasky then places Michigan into the blue column, cites Obama's mortal lock on the West Coast states and Hawaii, and says that Obama now has 260 electoral votes. I don't know where he gets that, actually -- if I give Obama Minnesota and Wisconsin, this brings me to 252, with the seven states Tomasky wants to talk about next (Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia) still on the table.

But Tomasky's main argument is this: "Obama can lose the big Eastern four--Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida: all of 'em!--and still be reelected." That's true! If Obama loses all four of those states and wins the three Western states, then Obama wins the election, 272-266.

Now, Tomasky adds that "barring some huge cataclysm, he's not losing all four" of the Virginia/North Carolina/Florida/Ohio combination. I'm not sure, though, that the persistently terrible economy is not the "huge cataclysm" for which he's looking. But even here, this is not a "landslide" argument. This is another variation of the "Romney has a narrow path to win" argument that was in bloom in the late spring. It sounds pretty convincing, until you realize that the "narrow path" scenario is the same scenario that anyone seeking to unseat an incumbent president faces. (Here's Steve Kornacki on why you should treat the "narrow path" argument as a "red herring.")

But the salient point is that what Tomasky describes is ... not a landslide. Tomasky describes, in any and all events, a situation where Obama wins by a much narrower margin than his 365-173 win over Senator John McCain in 2008. You see what I mean about the headline writer sort of running away with this argument?

So the brief that Morris brings against Tomasky -- or by his reckoning, everyone in the media -- with his hypothetical polling firm and their magic numbers, is actually counterargument to a suggestion that no one, outside of a Newsweek/Daily Beast headline writer, is making.

For the time being, I recommend everyone just go with: "Obama holds a narrow but not insurmountable lead, and the lousy state of the economy offers Romney a better-than-average chance to win a close race."

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