Asked and Answered (Sullivan Edition)

Andrew Sullivan asks:  Did Obama Just Throw The Entire Election Away?

I would answer as follows:  No. 

Was Obama’s performance damaging to him?  Yes.  Did Romney perform well and re-invigorate his campaign?  Yes.

However, regardless of anything else, there are two more debates left (plus the veepy one).  I point this out simply based on the following logic:  if one debate can move the numbers, then another debate can also move the numbers.  This is pretty straight-forward.

Romney may well be able to build on this reaction and gain momentum, but we won’t be able to assess whether the debate was as dramatic a pivot point that Sullivan fears it might be until we have a few more bits of data (including, but not limited to, the aforementioned additional debates).

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Given Sullivan’s serial-man-crush approach to politics, I expect that what this really means is that Obama just threw away the election for Sullivan. The magic has ended, and if Romney wins, I wouldn’t be suprised if in a few months Sullivan is going on about how dreamy a president Mitt is.

  2. @Stormy Dragon: No, I think he is truly worried that Obama will lose: read the post, or at least the conclusion, to see what I mean.

  3. @Steven L. Taylor:

    He was truly worried George Bush was gonna lose to. Until he wasn’t. My point is that his method for choosing politicians to support has always seem to have been based on his emotional reaction to them, and then swinging all his political views to justify those emotions. What we’re seeing here is panic because when he watched the debate, he found himself more emotionally attached to Mitt than Obama.

  4. @Stormy Dragon: Perhaps. I just don’t read it that way.

  5. Fiona says:

    Sully is seriously over-reacting here. His posts are histrionic. I get it that he’s worried Obama will lose, and deeply disappointed in Obama’s debate performance, but he needs to take a Valium and get a little perspective.

  6. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I’m inclined to agree with Stormy. Sully tends to have histrionic first reactions to topics, which he thens moderates after a few days or so of pondering. The fact that he wrote this days after the debates suggests that his Obama mancrush is waning.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    Contra Sullivan…how Romney turned the campaign around…and it has nothing to do with Obama…,29845/

  8. Geek, Esq. says:

    Posts like Sullivan explain why Obama’s implosion was so harmful. Not because of what Sullivan says, but what his saying it reflects.

    Obama’s supporters have had their confidence in the guy shaken. We’re starting to wonder if the guy wants the job as badly as Romney does, is his heart really in it, does he have what it takes to win. etc?

    Obama looked like a loser in that debate, and Romney looked like a winner. That tends to be a self-fulfilling dynamic. Obama acts like a loser, gets perceived as a loser, loses supporters, gets perceived as a loser, loses more supporters, etc.

    Obama needs to look like a winner, and soon.

  9. Facebones says:

    Sully is obsessed with being on the winning team. He was all for Bush and his manly swagger until public opinion started to turn against him.

    He was all for Ryan and his dreamy budget until it was pointed out that it made absolutely no mathematical sense.

    He wrote three hagiographic Newsweek covers about Obama, and now he’s freaking out when he turns out to not be the next Reagan.

    He’s covering his bases. If Obama does well next debate, Sully will claim credit for a wake up call. If he doesn’t, expect more sidelong glance to Alpha Male Mitt.

  10. Jay Dubbs says:


    ALL IS LOST!!!!!

    (Democrats this week . . . or Republicans one week ago.)

  11. stonetools says:

    He migght not have lost the Presidential election, but my dream of Speaker Pelosi, a Science Committee that isn’t a laughing stock, and a major rebuff of the Tea Party morons is all but dead-sigh………….

  12. stonetools says:

    Kevin Drum‘s accurate portrayal of the liberal pundit reaction:

    Instead, liberals went batshit crazy. I didn’t watch any commentary immediately after the debate because I wanted to write down my own reactions first, and my initial sense was that Obama did a little bit worse than Romney. But after I hit the Publish button and turned on the TV, I learned differently. As near as I could tell, the entire MSNBC crew was ready to commit ritual suicide right there on live TV, Howard Beale style. Ditto for all their guests, including grizzled pols like Ed Rendell who should have known better. It wasn’t just that Obama did poorly, he had delivered the worst debate performance since Clarence Darrow left William Jennings Bryan a smoking husk at the end of Inherit the Wind. And it wasn’t even just that. It was a personal affront, a betrayal of everything they thought was great about Obama. And, needless to say, it put Obama’s entire second term in jeopardy and made Romney the instant front runner.

    Sully was simply the craziest of them all, but Matthews wasn’t far behind. Let’s see what Uncle Joe will do this week, before we start holding a wake for Obama’s re-election hopes.
    Again, this is the difference between the liberal and right wing media. Had Romney flopped, conservatives would have circled the wagons and protected their guy: the liberal response is to form up in a circular firing squad, with Obama as the target. Maybe Kevin Drum is right: we need better hacks.

  13. Geek, Esq. says:


    If Romney had flopped, the discussion would be about whether the Republicans could hold the House, since the WH race would be declared over (George HW Bush actually did that to Dukakis–his campaign declared the race over well in advance of the actual election).

  14. mantis says:

    @Geek, Esq.:

    Obama’s supporters have had their confidence in the guy shaken.

    Please. I haven’t. Sullivan is, and always has been, a rather stupid, capricious drama queen. I have no idea why anyone listens to him or ever has.

    I’m still quite confident that the president will win re-election, and deserves to.

    Calm down and stop being childish. It’s only one weak debate performance.

  15. mantis says:

    @Geek, Esq.:

    If Romney had flopped, the discussion would be about whether the Republicans could hold the House, since the WH race would be declared over

    Nonsense. A close race is good for ratings and readership. Hence the impulse to put way too much importance into any statement, speech, or debate, from either candidate. Anything to portray the race as a competitive back and forth.

  16. grumpy realist says:

    Some confusion may be engendered because there’s a parody Sully twitter feed out there that is, in fact, melting down along the OH MY GOD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIEEEE lines.

    The fact that quite a few people seem to have been fooled by it makes quite a comment about Sully.

    Me? Eh. If Obama wins, great. If Romney wins, I predict that within the next four years I will have at least one opportunity to say “I told you so” to his supporters.

    It’s when you start seeing the scientists and engineers leaving the US to more hospitable climes that you will know the US has reached the point of no return. I’m hoping for another Sputnik, but I can’t imagine what would have the same impact on the American psyche.

  17. stonetools says:

    @Geek, Esq.:

    I know.Instead of going for retaking the House, we have to be content for the next two years with that Arkansas jackass on the Science Committee, Darell Issa pursuing fake scandals on his committee, and the mother fracking Tea Party idiots trying to repeal Obamacare and set women’s rights back to the 19th century.
    I see re-election of Obama as a job half done . Tea Party delenda est .

  18. @stonetools:

    Tea Party delenda est.

    Isn’t this Tea-partyism itself? It is impossible to work with my political opponents, they must be destroyed entirely.

  19. stonetools says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Its abundantly clear that the Tea Party folks can’t be negotiated with, they can only be voted out. The so called Grand Bargain negotiations proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt. I repeat, Tea Party delenda est .

  20. Buzz Buzz says:

    Instead, liberals went batshit crazy.

    This is their default setting.

    Inside The Hive ™

  21. @stonetools:

    Which, of course, is exactly what the Tea Partiers say about you. The thing is, they’re not going to be destroyed. Whether you like it or not, they’re going to be part of the electorate for the forseeable future, and you’re going to have to figure out a way to deal with them.

  22. Geek, Esq. says:


    What historical precedent is there for a presidential candidate to be losing four weeks out–according to every major/legit poll– and coming back to win the election?

    I’m willing to entertain intelligent, fact-based discussions as to why Obama should be considered the favorite.

    Unfortunately, the data all point to him hitting the bricks next year.

  23. mantis says:

    @Geek, Esq.:

    For a self-proclaimed Geek you know very little of the things you talk about.

    Do you know what the electoral college is? Do you understand how it works? Do you know how polls work?

    Nate Silver give Obama a 72% chance of winning as of today. Intrade has it at 62%.

    There’s lots of time left. There are three more debates, including the VP debate. Romney still has a very narrow path to an electoral college win. I believe that the polls will swing back Obama’s way in the next week or so.

    Unfortunately, the data all point to him hitting the bricks next year.

    I don’t think you know what “data” or “all” mean.

  24. An Interested Party says:

    This is their default setting.

    As if you won’t go batshit crazy when the President wins reelection…perhaps you’ll simply disappear from these threads…or move on to another alias…

    Whether you like it or not, they’re going to be part of the electorate for the forseeable future, and you’re going to have to figure out a way to deal with them.

    How does one deal with a group that refuses to compromise on just about anything…

  25. Geek, Esq. says:


    Silver’s model has it pegged that way. Silver has said this week that his model is slow to pick up on event-driven data–it’s still treating the post-debate polls as noise. Give Obama another week of trailing in every national poll and see how that model reacts.

    There is a major enthusiasm gap–Obama’s selfish disdain for things like debates and debate prep showed a lot of us that he simply does not want it as much as Romney.

    Romney did his homework for that debate. Obama went to the Hoover dam, delivered pizzas, and complained about what a ‘drag’ debate prep is.

    Romney is talking about rescuing the economy. Obama is talking about rescuing Big Bird.

    Romney’s election is going to kill Americans and others across the world. And that didn’t trouble Obama enough to motivate him to rehearse his closing statement.