Dan Hodges is a self-described “Blairite cuckoo” in the nest of the Daily Telegraph blogging site. He’s also a lively, independent-minded, entertaining commentator on Anglo-American politics who’s shrewder and less cuckoo more often than any New Labourite has a right to be. On the likely course of the U.S. election, however, he not only took the bold position that the first presidential debate had not raised Romney’s election prospects in the slightest (“Romney lost, yes you read that right”), but he doubled down on this judgment in today’s post (“the game is already over and Obama has won”).
I have to admit that I like this kind of boldness. Hodges is plainly the guy to go to Vegas with, but not necessarily the guy to follow at the roulette table. My own more timid view is that Romney won the first debate, did slightly better than a tie last night, and has a better than 50/50 chance of winning on November 6. But an Obama victory is certainly a real possibility and, if Romney commits some serious gaffe, more than a possibility.
So what explains Hodges’ magnificent madness? Temperament is probably a large part of it. He’s a high-roller; if his boldness proves correct, he’ll look like a genius; if not, well, what do you expect when you bet everything on one number at roulette?
Another factor may be the bias of New Labour/Clintonian politics, the assumption that they have the information weapons to win the game ahead of the campaign by shaping voter attitudes at a fairly deep level. When the starting gun fires, they’ve already won the race. This time, however, it looks as if the long campaign to demonize Romney has failed because it was simply unconvincing when the real man showed up and proved not to be a demon. Karl Rove pointed out on Fox that the Obama campaign has just pulled its negative anti-Romney ads and substituted “positive” pro-Obama messages.
But a third reason may be the extraordinarily biased coverage of the election campaign (and the negative account of Romney personally). The Telegraph’s regular coverage of last night’s debate, for instance, ranged from the judgment that Obama had won handily to that he had won on points. The polls showing that Obama had outperformed Romney by 7 or so percent were cited; but the (arguably more significant) polls showing that Romney had more voter support than Obama on such issues as the economy, the deficit, and taxes went unnoticed. Not until late in the London afternoon did the Telegraph’s rolling election coverage mention nervously that Romney had apparently risen in the Gallup poll to attain a six-point lead over the president. And the Telegraph is the most conservative paper among the broadsheets.
If Hodges turns out to be a victim of this coverage, he will be in stout conservative company. Almost the entire Tory party, Cameron leading the pack, was astonished by Romney’s performance in the first debate, even though it was perfectly foreseeable that Romney would do reasonably well — as he had in almost all the primary debates. Press bias is resented most strongly by those who are being covered; but its other victims are the readers who believe it and are then astounded by the commonplace.
I put British Tories in this category (though they partly wanted to be deceived so as to justify their own general feebleness), but not Hodges. Hodges is a bold swashbuckler leaping from a balcony onto a chandelier. He is at present in mid-air, laughing gaily. He will be insufferable if Obama wins, and he lands safely, of course. Still, I almost wish he could be right.