When reality bites back

Last week, I posed the question of what might happen when people start believing their own lies. This was prompted by the fact that the Republican party and the Romney campaign and their supporters seemed to be willing to reject any information that went against what they wanted to believe. This election at least partially supplied an answer to my question and that is that you end up looking like a fool because at some point reality slaps you upside the head.

In particular, I was struck by the message that was being pushed that Romney would win easily, which was the one outcome that had no empirical basis whatsoever. The polls and poll aggregators had consistently shown a close race in the national vote and a comfortable victory for Obama in the electoral college, with a very small chance of Romney pulling it off. Their track record in past elections had been excellent and the 2012 results were another vindication for the ‘quants’, as they have come to be known,

I thought that the Romney campaign bigwigs, the Republican party leaders, and their pundit supporters were well aware that there was no basis for their exuberant optimism and were cynically promoting this false view out of some vague theory of psychology that this would fire up Romney voters with enthusiasm and increase their chances of going to the polls and, conversely, depressing Obama supporters to make them more likely to not vote. I felt that they did not really believe all that stuff about Romney’s momentum and last minute huge surge of enthusiasm and that this was just a story they fed the rubes in the hopes of squeaking out a narrow victory. How could they not know about the actual data that was out there that was pretty well known to even complete outsiders like me?

But the one thing that has emerged quite clearly is that they actually believed their own words. Report after report has emerged that Romney was shellshocked by his loss. The campaign had even planned victory fireworks on election night.

Could they have really been that deluded? According to other reports, they indeed were.

Romney supporters point to a series of brash statements made by advisers that seem out of touch with reality in retrospect. Inside the Beltway, Republicans trained their fire on senior Romney advisers like Ed Gillespie and political director Rich Beeson for appearances on last weekend’s Sunday shows. Gillespie said the electoral map was expanding, and Beeson predicted a 300 electoral vote win for Romney.

“There were a lot of Republicans who were on calls that the campaign was having led to believe we had shots in Pennsylvania and Minnesota,” one Republican operative supporting Romney said. “I think Republicans are split right now between confused and shocked, and also I think they are wondering did the Romney campaign have numbers we didn’t have.”

Inside tight-knit Romneyworld — where many of the GOP nominee’s senior aides have worked together since Romney’s time as Massachusetts governor — there was a sense Tuesday that the White House was within reach. Over the last few weeks, especially after Romney’s strong Denver debate performance, some staffers were openly speculation about jobs they might nab in a Romney administration and discussed what the shape of the transition effort.

After getting some sleep, a senior campaign official praised the skill of his opponents in Chicago, saying Obama’s team ran a “technically proficient campaign.”

“People really did think we were going to win,” he said. “I thought going into yesterday that we could and would win. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit: They changed the electorate.”

Romney bundlers and mega donors were optimistic Tuesday afternoon as they mingled in the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel lobby, picking up their donor packets and prepping for a private party before what they believed would be a Romney victory.

Some of the pundits who got it badly wrong are not stupid people. They are paid, handsomely, to keep up with the news. And yet, George Will predicted 321 votes for Romney. Perhaps nowhere was the shock of the outcome more palpable than on Fox News on election night. Anchor Megyn Kelly seemed stunned.

I find this truly incredible. If I, as an outsider, could have read the writing on the wall so long ago, how could these people, insiders all and professional news people, have missed it?

This is what happens when you start believing your own lies and hype and move away from reality. While there are many things that one can criticize about the policies of the Obama administration, one thing seems clear, that they do have at least one foot firmly planted on the ground. And their campaign reflected that. The Obama camp is clearly reality-based while the Republicans are not

You cannot fight reality. You either come to terms with it and try to find ways to use it to your advantage or you will be at the receiving end of one shock after another. That way lies madness.


  1. sunny says

    Perhaps Mitt the Twit had faith that his best friend in heaven would help him. I suppose the defeat can now be rationalized as one more trial devised by the great one for Romney.

    More seriously, you are correct that it is an interesting psychological problem.

  2. Doug Little says

    You aint seen nothin yet.

    You should see the Tea Baggers and traditional Republicans eating one another alive at the moment. It can go one of two ways the party is gonna go even further to the right or there is going to be a schism and the tea party will either split into a new party or kick the more moderate republicans out. I don’t think it is possible to get further from reality than the tea party, they would rather remain ideologically pure and lose than compromise and win.

  3. grignon says

    I think the stance of the GOP for the last few weeks was to exploit people’s desire to back a winner. Since they knew the numbers weren’t there, they adopted a public posture of “it’s in the bag-sure thing-no problem” hoping that enough of the fence sitters with one foot in Obama land would flip and make it a contest. A desperate ploy but probably the only one available to them.

  4. says

    The things we learned in the last 4 years are the PROFOUND cognative and behavioral differences between authoritarians and non-authoritarians, putting to rest the “both sides do it’ meme of much cited folk wisdom. There IS no ‘lefty’ version of Glen Beck and Bryan Fisher and Michelle Bachman etc etc etc.

  5. northstar says

    Not one to waste a perfectly good quote I’ve already dug up today, here’s a relavent one from (and about) Karl Rove, by way of Ron Suskind. In this context, “empire,” I believe, meant Bush administration or then-current Republican empire.

    “The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” He continued “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

    * Suskind, Ron (2004-10-17). Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush. The New York Times Magazine.

    It shows a sneering perception that the American public was so blank and malleable that a whole new “reality” could be produced, magician-like, and would then in fact become real. This is the result of sipping a strange and deluding nectar of power, that reality is what it is desired and presented to be.

    Another aspect I saw in some of the coverage during and after the election. Dick Morris (I believe) said something to the effect that voting closely tracked published polls, and that the liberal media had drawn forth the Obama vote with their misleading polls. This absolutely gobsmacking statement led me to believe that is exactly what they attempting to do, and were stunned when the cart did not lead the horse.

  6. says

    I don’t really know that it’s fair to be critical of the Romney campaign for having preparations made for victory (such as fireworks).

    After all, the campaign did have a real (though small) chance of victory, and it would be odd not to be prepared for it.

    What I think the problem was is that the campaign was inadequately prepared for defeat.

  7. says

    Some of the right-wing prognosticators are admitting they were wrong and that Nate Silver et al were right. I find this encouraging. Perhaps one lesson the right learns from this election is that it’s better to face up to reality than to cling to false postivity. Even if the stigma on negativity is relaxed only a little, this would be a great development (I’m thinking of climate change especially).

  8. jb says

    This is what David Frum predicted on Canadian Tv. That the teabaggers would blame Romney for the loss, and move even further to the right.

    This in fact did happen, as the tea party leader said that they lost b/c they were forced by the ‘beltway elites’ to pick a candidate who was a loser, and not a ‘fighter’ like Ronald Reagan.

  9. Corvus illustris says

    The aide said … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” He continued “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.

    Oh, I don’t think that this merely expresses contempt for the American public. It’s contempt for the mind: among other things, it’s “we’re the Persian empire, but you’re just Herodotus, listening credulously to stories and taking notes. If we want WMD in Iraq, they’re there. [And on, and on, … .]” But their reality only exists in their own echo chamber. If nothing else, the poll aggregators may have forced them to realize that those puny abstractions The Numbers can express contempt too. It’s a start on perceiving where reality is …

  10. thebookofdave says

    Why prepare for defeat, when victory is assured beyond doubt? Rally your people, pray for a win, compose yourself as though you’re cruising to the finish line in style, and your opposition will be delivered into your hands. God transcends the stats.

    Doubt is irrelevant. In fact, it is corrosive to success. Conservative campaign managers and media commentators scoffed at poll aggregators like Nate Silver not only because they disagreed with his forecasts, but because he never released a prediction with absolute certainty. Wishy-washy reliance on numbers and answers given in terms of probability functions implies negative thoughts of the outcome. And we all know negative thoughts are for losers.

    They have been under the influence of Prosperity Gospel, Word of Faith theology, and other New Thought spinoffs. People who believe that their thoughts change reality are confounded when their actions produce an outcome they didn’t agree to. Reality bats last.

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