Monday 5 November 2012, 16:27
As soon as the result of the US presidential election is known, pundits will be making discreet hand-brake turns - from not having a clue about how it was going to pan out, to persuading themselves that this was the only possible result - and that they’d predicted it all along.
To help them make the transition, here’s a handy starter pack in post-election analysis:
‘It was probably inevitable that Obama, with all the advantages of incumbency, would pull off a historic victory, despite the formidable problems he faced in his first term. He’d been swept to the White House on a wave of optimism unseen for generations. But he faced the most severe economic conditions in living memory: of course some of the shine came off his presidency.
But the American people never took against him personally, despite the real problems they faced. If the oratorical power of Obama the campaigner became a little dulled and academic in office, that only showed his business-like attitude to the job in which he never looked less than dignified.
While Obama retained a sense of authenticity and the feeling of being a “one-off”, Romney was the identikit presidential candidate. But while he looked the part in stills, the more people saw and heard of him, the more questions they had: about his business background; about his changing attitudes and policies; about whether the numbers in his economic plan added up.
Romney’s success in the first election debate was like Nick Clegg’s in the first TV debate of the UK’s 2010 general election: he surprised by exceeding low expectations and convincing the nation he was a candidate worth considering. Suddenly he had the electorate’s attention. But neither Clegg nor Romney was able to translate those favourable first impressions into votes.
While Obama would probably have won anyway, superstorm Sandy was the icing on the cake for his campaign: a chance to demonstrate calm authority in the face of a disaster that brought the nation together. Romney was left on the sidelines: all talk and no action.
In the end the American people knew that Obama had been dealt a poor hand by his predecessor and gave him the benefit of the doubt. His natural talent as a politician, together with lingering uncertainties about his opponent, made the race, in reality, a foregone conclusion.’
‘It was probably inevitable that an incumbent president coping with the worst economic crisis in living memory would be unable to persuade the American people to give him a second chance. The early optimism of the Obama presidency could not be sustained and it wasn’t long before the new president appeared as just another politician struggling to control forces over which he had little real power.
Obama’s charisma morphed into a flat, academic style: the campaigning passion was gone, and with it the ability to communicate almost viscerally with the electorate which had swept him into office.
It was Romney who established himself as the candidate of change. His image, straight out of central casting, played well at a time when the nation was ready to embrace someone new offering hope for the future. Even Romney’s flip-flopping positions on policy gave uncertain voters confidence that Democrat accusations about his radical ideas would prove unfounded in the reality of office.
Then there was the revelation of the first TV debate: it was the moment when the American people finally got to know the candidate - and they liked what they saw. He was the kind of guy you could imagine sharing a joke with over a beer - not the stony-faced asset-stripper they’d been told about.
While Romney would probably have won anyway, superstorm Sandy was the icing on the cake for his campaign: it became a potent symbol of Obama’s inability to get things done, as tens of thousands were left without homes and power, despite the president’s highly visible efforts to bring order to the chaos.
Obama will be remembered as a man who simply couldn’t conquer the economic crisis he inherited. Perhaps, like Jimmy Carter, his reputation will grow in his years out of office.
Romney will be president by January, bringing the winning combination of business experience and the promise of new jobs that made this race, in reality, a foregone conclusion.’
Of course, a third script may be required to explain the inevitability of a series of recounts and disputes over tied results. If that’s needed, I suggest you stick the above two into a blender, add a drop of vodka and serve with a slice of lemon.
For more thoughts on the US election, see this College of Journalism talk by Dick Meyer, BBC executive producer America and a former editorial director of CBSNews.com. Or watch this video report from Mark Mardell.
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