09/30/2012 10:53 pm ET Updated Nov 30, 2012

What's Defeating the Romney/Ryan Ticket? Romney/Ryan

"We have met the enemy, and he is us" was Pogo's famous saying from Walt Kelly's cartoon strip.

Whether Mitt Romney would listen to that is another matter, and he has plenty of enablers, on his staff and elsewhere, to tell him it's all somebody else's fault.

But the unanimously negative -- if merely current -- verdict about Romney's election chances in the polls isn't because of some sinister conspiracy or because, as running mate Paul Ryan told Chris Wallace on Fox this Sunday, "the president has done an effective job at trying to confuse the issue" and people don't understand them.

It's the opposite -- Americans understand Republican policies, judge them by the result, and reject them. It doesn't help that Romney apparently doesn't believe what he's saying, that it shows, and that that makes people mistrust him. But he's had to say what he's been saying because that's where the party is.

Which brings us back to Republican policies.

In sum, I believe the problem is that the country as a whole -- party faithful aside -- doesn't buy current Republican ideology when they understand what it means for them, that they do understand it, and that the nation disagrees with it. Republicans made this election a referendum on their policies by putting Ryan on the ticket, and the electorate is giving them its answer.

Having said that, I think it's less a matter of Obama winning than of Romney losing. This has been helped by an Obama team that hasn't made any mistakes, versus a Romney team that's made plenty of them up until now. Romney now appears to be on his back foot, and he may have lost too much ground to win. We'll see more on the Wednesday debates; but unless he demolishes Obama, which I doubt, I'd say the debates won't help much.

My impression is that Romney is a decent, intelligent, capable man who'd probably make a pretty good president a la GHW Bush -- non-ideological, prudent, careful. But he's a package deal, and many in the GOP coalition have said and done things that scare the bejesus out of the country.

The country doesn't want to empower the Michele Bachmanns, Allen Wests, and Eric Cantors of the world, and likewise it doesn't sign on to the Tea Party's apocalyptic views. Likewise, the urgency the Right claims it's acting on simply doesn't go over with the majority of Americans, any more than it goes along with its ad hominem attacks on Obama, what he allegedly is, and what he'll be doing to the country. If anything, the never-ending din is working against them. The boy who cried wolf and all that.

Looked at that way, bringing Ryan on to the ticket was a mistake. There's too much heat at the bottom of the ticket and that gets some Republicans to thinking they should wait till next time, while the clear ideological choice he represents is spurring Democrats to work harder to defeat them.

Here's one example of how their message is losing voters.

Romney and Ryan are promising to cut taxes. Yet they concede that by closing various deductions -- mortgage deductions, for instance -- the tax burden on the middle class will actually be heavier. And Democrats have been relentless -- and right -- to keep explaining that lowering taxes on capital gains and the various other income sources of the rich will lighten their tax burden.

As Henry Kissinger used to say, this contradiction is not only useful in itself, but has the added virtue of being true. Hitting it with spotlights undercuts the basic right-wing premise that cutting taxes makes life better for everyone, and makes people believe the GOP isn't on their side. And more people have come to this conclusion than they'd like to believe. In other words, the American people are smarter than the consultants think.

It's actually painful -- if very welcome in my house -- to watch a bunch of really smart people be this clueless about what they're doing to themselves. When, for instance, Republicans push the idea that half the country doesn't pay taxes, the response in most minds isn't that those people should share the burden or that they're takers and not makers -- they wonder why those people are so poor in the richest country on Earth, why Republicans want to make matters worse for them, and then ask themselves what happened to the premise of trickle-down economics, and what it's going to mean for them. And yet, Republicans simply can't seem to understand this.

That may be part of the problem. This really is a policy driven election -- one that's been long overdue, in my opinion.