“One-term proposition”: “If I don't have this done in three years, then there's gonna be a one-term proposition,” President Obama told NBC’s Matt Lauer in February 2009. He was talking about an economic recovery. As much as President Obama tried either to blame the previous administration or to argue that, bad as things are, it would have been even worse without his actions, the fact remained that the economy—with 7.9 percent unemployment, 2 percent economic growth, and 47 million Americans on food stamps—was just too weak. The president, precisely as he himself had predicted, got the blame.
Peace and prosperity: Incumbents get re-elected in cases of peace and prosperity. Obama didn’t deliver the prosperity (please see “one-term proposition,” above), and the violent deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, in an attack launched on September 11 undercut Obama’s claim to have delivered peace.
ObamaCare: President Obama thought he was being clever by delaying the full implementation of ObamaCare until 2014, after the election. But the consequence is that benefits the law would provide remain strictly theoretical to many voters. To run successfully against the Republican claim that the law raises premiums, expands bureaucracy, cuts Medicare, and increases taxes, Obama needed a better response than just coverage for 25-year-olds and for those with pre-existing conditions. He needed to show expanded coverage and lower costs for voters and consumers. But under the 2010 health care law, the exchanges and tax credits, which are the key coverage and cost provisions, don’t start operating until 2014.
Wisconsin Unions: If Romney’s victory includes Wisconsin’s electoral votes, it will be a classic case of political irony. If the Wisconsin public sector unions had not gone after Governor Scott Walker in their unsuccessful recall effort, Walker would never have raised all the money he did and built the sophisticated voter lists and turnout operation that he had. If Romney wins Wisconsin, the Walker political ground operation developed in response to the union-initiated recall will be a big part of the reason why. (Another reason is Wisconsin’s own Paul Ryan, who will look like a genius vice presidential pick if he succeeds in helping to deliver those electoral votes.)
Taxes: Romney’s tax messaging may have been murky to nonexistent at times, but Obama’s was so clear that the voters got the point anyway. Voters saw right through Obama’s “ask the wealthy to pay a little bit more” formulation and concluded that Obama wanted to raise taxes, while Romney had a plan for a 20 percent rate cut. In American elections, tax-cutters usually beat tax-raisers.
The Tone, Capitalism, and the Electorate: It turns out that a substantial portion of the electorate isn’t interested in demonizing successful American businessmen, as President Obama and his campaign have done. It turns out that a lot of voters admire American business success and wish we had more successful entrepreneurs in America, not fewer of them. So much of this campaign was President Obama and his allies attacking Bain Capital (and Wall Street, and insurance companies, and oil companies), and so much of it was Romney defending his career at Bain Capital. It turns out that a majority of American voters are not hostile to capitalism, and they bet that a president with business experience might do a better job of fostering economic growth than has President Obama, who constantly portrayed business as something that Americans need to be protected from.
Explanations are ready, that is, for either outcome. All that’s needed now is for the voters to have their say. Happy Election Day.