A Baseball Philosophy into Romney's Mid-October Comeback
A little over a week ago while Mitt Romney was kicking Barack Obama all over the stage in Denver during the first of three presidential debates, the New York Yankees were beating up a depleted Triple-A team wearing Boston Red Sox uniforms and closing in on their 17th or 18th division title; it's hard to count there's so goddamned many. But all it did was provide the Yankees with a puncher's chance for a playoff to come. It didn't make them world champs or even American League champs. In order to accomplish this, a team has to first qualify. Little did anyone realize that evening Romney was doing his own qualifying.
Baseball analogy further, the Yankees were forced to win that game, the final game of the season to clinch, because they had blown a lead to the surging Baltimore Orioles in late summer, just as Romney absolutely had to win that first debate due to his lackluster September. The Yankees had squandered a 10 game lead. Romney had stumbled his way through one catastrophe after the other. On the same night, both righted the ship.
But again, nothing was truly decided. Turns out there are two more debates, and the bump Romney enjoys still has not given him leads in key battleground states. Despite besting them in the regular season, the Yankees ended up in a playoff series with the same Baltimore Orioles team that chased them into autumn. The same team right there again knocking on the door. The same issues facing Romney over these next three weeks of campaigning.
Baseball, though, unlike presidential politics, is a sport without a clock. There is no four-corner offense or kneel down or freezing the puck. You have to play it out. It has to be taken. It is a sport where the defense has the ball first, and dictates the outcome by delivering it to the offense. Mostly, baseball is the cruelest of sport. Hit the ball hard, get nothing. Make the best pitch, break a bat, and it falls in for a two-run single that sinks you. It is our national past time for a reason. It reminds us of beauty and anguish in the same game, and sometimes even during one play.
Presidential politics can have tantalizing moments of cruelty and joy, but there is a clock. Waiting out the opponent for that grand mistake can sometimes be effective. But this time around that strategy has backfired on both candidates. As a wise man once uttered, "Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes the bar eats you."
Romney and Obama were each in enviable positions during this 2012 campaign. Each thought they could merely ride waves into victory. First Romney, having endured the primary push to the Right, something he did grudgingly and in many cases uncomfortably, emerged a confident challenger to a vulnerable incumbent; the "winnable candidate". He was the Yankees ten games up in June.
The Romney strategy out of the blocks was to hang in there and don't be too bold, be the alternative to the low approval-ratings guy and ride his negatives into the White House. But the "anything but Obama" stance started to falter around late June, so Romney began talking and talking and sinking and sinking in the polls; losing ground in battleground states he had never led in but figured would somehow come his way by osmosis.
That's about when complacency took over the Obama campaign, having battled out of a weak economic record and scary wrong-track numbers to show life and build its own seemingly secure lead, the way the Yankees opponent, the Baltimore Orioles, a team riddled with holes and questionable pitching, began to storm into a tie with New York on Labor Day.
For three dismal weeks in September, Romney looked as if he and his campaign had no idea where he was going or what he was doing, culminating in truly pitiful poll numbers in not only battleground states, but flimsy defenses in once solid "red" ones. Senate and congressional races were tossed into jeopardy, the conservative press and donors began to wonder if Romney's heart was in it. He was now the vulnerable one.
So, instead of taking the dagger handed to him by Romney, Obama, in his most defining moment in the campaign thus far, decided to play prevent defense; acting at best cordial and at worst neutered for 90 minutes while his opponent hit him hard on fact and fiction.
Before October, 3, 2012, Mitt Romney had not been "in the game." If anything, his campaign and his own inability to lead it had managed to push what was a mild-to-solid Obama lead in every battleground state into nearly overwhelming odds. Romney had completely lost any chance at stealing Wisconsin, was so far behind in Pennsylvania and Michigan his campaign announced to the traveling press there would be no more money spent there and the candidate would be taking his road show elsewhere. There was serious internal talk of abandoning Ohio and going the Karl Rove route of the mountain states and securing Virginia and Florida for an end-around approach that nobody thought was feasible beyond a minor miracle.
Then Romney escaped from several factions inside his campaign and the party, ceased his pussy-footing with the fringe Tea Party advisors and his change-a-minute team, and go back to being the moderate that the country, so far unimpressed with him, could stomach. Why else would a man who claimed for 16 months to repeal the Affordable Care Act reel off six or seven of its most popular provisions as something he supported, while also amazingly touting his own health care initiative in Massachusetts? Why else would he deny his math-challenged 20 percent tax cut across the board with no tangible raise in revenues for a hearty support of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security?
It was a brilliant Clintonian pivot and it changed this race.
Now, as the Yankees and Orioles, after 162 games, a spring, summer and fall behind them, and 22 games head-to-head match-ups, try and finally decide who will survive a play-off series for a spot in the World Series, Romney and Obama find that no one is in the driver's seat. As I write this the teams prepare for a fifth and deciding game and after a relative draw in a mostly non memorable vice presidential debate in which Joe Biden did his bluster thing and Paul Ryan did his dodging thing, we're nowhere near decided.
The Obama impenetrable firewall through the Mid-West and the South East is now tightening. The only good news for the president, beside a yet-to-be-polled significant dip in the unemployment figures below eight percent for the first time since the 2008 crisis, is no matter how bad things get, his Republican challenger cannot completely overtake him in the only scoreboard that counts; the Electoral College. It is as if the reluctance to embrace Romney has a ceiling. Can Romney break through it in the final weeks? Will Obama fight for his job?
What looked like a sure six months ago for Romney and then a surer bet for Obama two weeks ago turns once again into a cruel shift of fortunes.
The numbers don't lie, and although the road still remains an incline for Romney, it is no longer as steep or insurmountable.
The battle is forged. The game goes on.
Be careful, say the baseball gods. As Yogi Berra once said, "It ain't over 'til it's over."