The Right’s (Possible) Coming Freak-Out
It’s a fate-taunting proposition, the day before a close election, to be looking ahead to the possible reactions to one particular outcome. But as Hurricane Sandy has taught us, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for contingencies. Herewith, then, is an attempt to reckon with the reaction that could occur on the right end of the spectrum if Barack Obama is reelected, as many prognosticators, not just the skinny ones with fancy models, are now predicting. It does not seem to be going too far to imagine that an Obama win would bring a very strong outburst on the right. After all, not only is there deep contempt for Obama in conservative circles — on display from the floor of the House (“You lie!”) to the Twitter feeds of leading businessmen (Trump, Murdoch, Jack Welch, etc) — but there has of late been real confidence, bordering on assurance, that he would fall on Tuesday.
This was not the case for much of the summer, but Mitt Romney’s victory in the first debate, and the polling surge that followed, inflamed hopes that we were, indeed, about to witness 1980 redux: the Jimmy Carterization of the hapless Obama. These hopes have been kept alive even after Romney’s polling surge abated and Obama’s narrow edge in key states held firm, by a mainstream media eager to stoke the narrative of a photo finish and by partisans and partial commentators doing their best to present a bullish front (see, for instance, Jay Cost’s dismissal of Obama-leaning polls and Michael Barone’s prediction that Romney will win 315 Electoral College votes.)
This means that a Romney loss could result in a harder landing for many Obama-loathers than would’ve seemed likely just a month or two ago. The long-term consequences are a matter for deeper consideration — how Republicans in Congress would deal with a lame-duck Obama over the next few years, how the party as a whole would respond to a second straight presidential election loss. For now, though, we can imagine some of the forms that an immediate reaction against an Obama victory would take, from outright denial to more subtle forms of delegitimation:
1. The election was stolen. This is, of course, the old tried-and-true stand-by: that Democrats win elections “Chicago-style.” It is a story line that has helped give rise to the new Voter ID laws and other voting restrictions around the country, as Jane Mayer described well in her recent New Yorker profile of Hans von Spakovsky, one of the leading town criers against voter fraud. On the one hand, it would seem like this would be a less effective line to take in 2012 than in past years. After all, states have passed 23 laws imposing new restrictions on voting in the past two years, and key swing states such as Ohio and Florida are being led by Republicans who have done their best to impose limitations on voter access; ACORN, the favorite target of voter-fraud accusations, is no longer in business; and the only notable allegations of organized voter fraud to surface this election have involved Republicans. But that won’t keep the Chicago legend from gaining circulation again this time around. Von Spakovsky, who is now on the elections board in Virginia’s largest county, Fairfax, was on Fox News the other day warning that Romney voters in some places were being counted as Obama voters.