Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine’s Analysis of the Debates
HH: As promised, joined now by New York Magazine blogger extraordinaire, a wonderful man of the left, Jonathan Chait. He’s also from Michigan, affirmative action all over the place today on the Hugh Hewitt Show. Jonathan, nobody promotes your blog like I do. I was just telling John Podhoretz about it from Commentary Magazine, and your theory today that Mittmentum is a figment of Team Romney campaign’s imagination, to which John Podhoretz replied, that’s preposterous. It’s absolutely preposterous. And he went on to talk about how everybody knew in early October Romney was behind, and he needed something, and everybody knows now that Romney is ahead and Obama is failing to close. And so your response? It’s a debate in sort of sequence. What do you think off John dismissing you as preposterous?
JC: Well, if I was not being dismissed by John Podhoretz, I’d be doing something wrong. It’s clear that Romney closed the gap after the debate in Denver. What he hasn’t done is eliminate the gap. And there’s no sense in which his momentum is actually continuing. If you look at the electoral college, just the average of polls shows that Obama is up in enough states to give him the electoral college majority right now, which doesn’t mean he’s certain to win. And the lead is not very large. But it is a lead. You know, if you just take the states that’s Romney’s conceding to him, and add in the states where Obama’s ahead by a couple points or more, that gets you to 270. That would include Nevada, Wisconsin and Ohio. And I think you have what looks like ties in Virginia and Colorado.
HH: Jonathan, would you agree, John’s point was in 250 polls since the first debate, 250 polls, every single one has showed momentum towards Romney. Now there are gaps that are closed, there are some that shows he’s ahead. But there’s nothing out there to give an Obama fan hope that anywhere it’s turned around, and that the direction has turned towards him. Do you have a contrafactual, as we say in the law?
JC: No, I mean, you know, there was momentum after Denver, but it stopped. There has not been any continuing momentum after Denver. And like I said, Romney’s not ahead right now. He’s not ahead in 270 electoral college votes’ worth of states.
HH: Okay, no continuing momentum. I’ll just pick one. I’ll pick Rasmussen, which has been one or two points since the Denver debate. Today, it is at four points Mitt Romney. It ticked up two overnight. That’s momentum. Romney’s at 50, Obama’s at 46. In the Gallup, Romney’s at 51, Obama’s at 46. Even in the IBD poll that has Obama ahead, he’s stuck at 47. And I look down this long list of polls at Real Clear Politics, and the President’s just stuck at between 40 and 47, which is, you know, that’s rigor mortis for an incumbent, Jonathan Chait.
JC: You know, I think the idea that incumbents have to be at 50%, people always swing against the incumbent, I think that’s been disproven. I don’t think that there’s any evidence that that’s actually true.
HH: Where’s that been disproven? I mean, send me somewhere.
JC: In the national polls, we’ve got basically a tied race. In the aggregate national polls, you’ve got a tied race.
HH: Send me somewhere…
JC: If you look at it state by state, Obama’s ahead. Obama’s ahead in the poling averages of Ohio, he’s ahead in the polling averages of Wisconsin and Nevada. That gets him over 270. Now again, it’s possible the polls are wrong. Polls are not perfect. You know, number one, something could happen over the next two weeks to give Romney momentum. Number two, we could just be mispolling these states, and maybe Romney’s doing better, or will do better than we think in these polls. That’s entirely possible. But if you go by the polls, Obama’s winning.
HH: Jonathan, point me to one place, just one, that says that late breakers do not go for the incumbent, because you just asserted that that’s not true, and I haven’t seen that written, I haven’t even seen Nate Silver adopt that position.
JC: Yeah, I think he’s written that. I’ve seen political scientists…I don’t have it on hand. I wasn’t prepared to defend that point in this segment. But political scientists have gone and examined what used to be known as the incumbent rule. And the incumbent rule actually was a big point that a lot of liberals were making for Kerry in ’04. I heard this rule. I thought well, it sounds like a smart rule, I think it makes sense. And then, Kerry lost, Bush did outperform his standing in the polls, that the undecideds did not flock to Kerry. And since then, I saw a lot of political scientists that wrote there is no incumbent rule. That’s kind of just something people made up.
HH: Okay, maybe I’m faster on Google than you are. I’m over looking at Polling Report and others, and it does not appear to me to be repudiated. But I’ll look further. Let me go to a couple of quote from last night to get your reaction.
HH: Here’s Mitt Romney’s devastating line:
MR: Mr. President, the reason I called it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East, and you flew to Egypt, and to Saudi Arabia, and to Turkey and Iraq. And by the way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region. But you went to the other nations, and by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel. And then in those nations, and on Arabic TV, you said that America had been dismissive and derisive. You said that on occasion, America had dictated to other nations. Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.
HH: And Jonathan, I want you to comment on that, but just for the audience’s benefit, from Polling Report, in 127 cases out of 155, most or all of the undecideds went for the challenge. So I don’t think it’s been disproven, but now your comment on Governor Romney’s comment?
JC: Yeah, I mean, look, the apology tour is a fictitious event. It’s true that he took a tour. He did go to other countries overseas. But you know, he’s been to Israel as well, he’s been to allied countries, he’s been to the Middle East. He went to Cairo. He gave a speech trying to change America’s image in the Muslim world, which is something I think he’s been successful at doing. And part of what he was doing was to acknowledge and take head on the complaints people in that part of the world have against the United States. And that’s part of his intellectual style is always to like taking the other person’s point and try to incorporate it and synthesize it into his own. But he was defending the United States as being a great country and a benevolent country. So you know, the idea that he was going around apologizing for the United States, it’s just fantastical.
HH: Oh, I think the apology tour is as real as the 127 cases out of 155 where the undecideds went for the challengers. But let me play you the President’s big night last night. This is what it comes down to. The left is cheering this line.
BO: You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we’re counting ships, it’s what are our capabilities.
HH: This was supposedly a good moment for him, Jonathan, but my email box is full of angry military people and veterans, and it also simply isn’t true about the Quadrennial report, and what they called for the fleet size to be. We’re below that, and we’re falling.
JC: Right, well, you know, I would suggest that your email box is probably not representative of America. But you know, the point is that Romney was making a completely preposterous comparison. He was basically saying that we’re weaker now than we were a hundred years ago because we have fewer ships. And Obama’s point was what you do is you measure capability, right? And an aircraft carrier can do things that ships we had a hundred years ago couldn’t. By the same token, simply measuring the number of things that we have compared to the number of things we had a hundred years ago, or over any period of time, isn’t the right way to do it. You look at capabilities. That’s where the bayonets line comes into play. Yes, they still have bayonets, but you wouldn’t compare the number of bayonets we had in World War I to today as a measure of how effective our military is.
HH: Jonathan Chait, great to talk to you from New York Magazine. I will be checking back to see how you deal with the incumbent rule and our ship to ships comparison in the future.
End of interview.