When children aren't prevailing in an argument with a parent, the classic response, usually with increasing stridence and volume, is, "You're not listening to me!" And today, as poll after poll shows the presidential election moving away from Mitt Romney's campaign, we're starting to hear that classic response: "America, you're not listening to me!"
The Romney campaign's problem is America is listening, but more and more people simply don't like what they're hearing.
The public was listening when Mr. Romney told a group of high-dollar contributors in an ill-advised statement what he really thinks about common folk. Even for likely voters actively shopping for an alternative to Barack Obama, Romney's comment was like a girl's first prom date getting drunk and throwing up on her dress -- it takes a bit of the glow off the relationship. A lot of these people had been trying to convince themselves that he was acceptable, even though he never seemed to say anything specific about anything, and he came across in every interview like he had his butt cheeks tightly clenched. The 47 percent comment was the last straw. Never mind.
Romney selected Paul Ryan for a running mate to establish unassailable credentials about his fiscal conservatism. Ryan, with an approach to federal budgeting that moves the country back toward the Articles of Confederation, is chock full of credibility with the far right. He's a serious player who makes no bones about what he thinks.
Unfortunately for Romney, the public has listened to Ryan too, and they clearly do not like what they're hearing. Ryan tries to reassure senior citizens: "We're not going to touch Medicare for you, but we're going to make it a voucher program for anyone under 55." He simply doesn't understand that, while today's seniors are fiercely protective of their Social Security and Medicare benefits, they also want those programs around for their children and grandchildren. George W. Bush found that out when he tried to transform Social Security from a defined benefit to "individual accounts."
People have heard what the Romney campaign has to say and they're just not buying it. To win the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt sold his soul to the far right ideology that has devoured his party, and now he's stuck with it. Every time he tries to move back even the slightest bit toward the center --"There are some things about Obamacare that I want to keep"-- he faces an instant rebellion from his new political base.
The Romney campaign is in a death spiral. It isn't just that a poll or two that indicates an Obama surge, especially in the battleground states; it's that all the polls do -- even the Fox News Poll. Absent some unforeseeable external event, or the president dozing off during the first debate, the polls will continue moving away from Romney until Election Day. And the Romney campaign knows it.
They are now displaying the stages of political grief: first, denial. "Polls are meaningless. You can buy a poll to say anything you want."
Then anger: "It's not our fault. It's the liberal news media."
In a losing political campaign, one of the next stages is desperation. Every play becomes a "Hail Mary" pass. Every statement gets more shrill.
Then they'll start blaming each other. "If it hadn't been for this consultant or that advisor."
However, Mitt Romney's problem isn't skewed polls or biased news media or incompetent advisors. His problem is that too many likely voters were never sold on him and don't like what he's selling.