Like the chicken of farmyard legend, the central nervous system of the poisonous US right wing outlived its beheading. All the networks had called the election for Barack Obama, but that clucking horror Karl Rove would not accept the fact that Mitt Romney was finished.
With a fifth of Ohio’s votes yet to be counted and Obama ahead by a slither, George W Bush’s “turdblossom” peevishly complained that it was too early for Romney to concede. In a rare sortie in the land of logic, his Fox News hosts adduced an in-house psephologist to explain why, with the precincts yet to declare leaning Democratic, Obama had beyond any statistical doubt won Ohio and re-election.
Still Rove wouldn’t have it, and what with him having blown $300m of SuperPac money in Mittens’ cause, you understood the reluctance. Even so, here was the most perfect microcosmic vignette of what this brutal election was macroscopically about. It had been a danse macabre to the death between science and blind faith; between America as she is and the 1950s version the Republicans wish her to be. Science and the present had won.
For weeks, the GOP’s flat-earthers had denied the polls. Even Reagan’s old speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, as wise and perceptive a political columnist as there is, succumbed. On election eve, she saw in her crystal ball an “undertow election” in which the fixation with swing state polling had blinded America to the enthusiasm edge, evidenced by the front yard placards and rally crowds, steering Romney to a landslide from beneath the surface. Nate Silver would look very foolish indeed.
Today, he looks a more transcendent genius than ever. Calmly maintaining that this race was never “too close to call”, the high priest of data analysts called it early and often. His bespoke system of weighting the plethora of polls proved astoundingly accurate. In this renewal of the ancient battle between science and faith, the Galileo of number crunchers stands acquitted of heresy.
The outcome might have been otherwise. But for Obama’s first debate narcolepsy, or had Mittens not written off the 47 per cent, it could have been a landslide for one or a squeaky win for the other. Many things, not least Superstorm Sandy, might have taken another path. A close US election is far too complex an event glibly to be explained the next day by a retroactively imposed coherent narrative, and without acknowledging the part played by luck.
For all that, there seems little overtly random about Romney’s loss. He was driven so far rightward during the primaries, by Murdoch’s parallel universe merchants at Fox and their useful Tea Party idiots, that his sprint back to the sane centre came too late. For that Pyrrhic nomination victory, he had to pander to the nutters in countless ways, most fatally by demonising illegal immigrants. No Republican will win the White House again without building bridges with the burgeoning Latino demographic. Romney burned the few that survived from Dubya, and self-combusted.
I am tempted, atheistically, to thank God that he has been denied the opportunity to start the third world war in Iran. But God – or the white supremacist version of those with no taste for the Sermon on the Mount – took a hiding Himself. Three quarters of weekly churchgoers voted for Romney, and roughly the same number of infidels for Obama. Among so much evidence of a monstrously divided electorate, that stands out. The Creationists, evangelicals and bible-quoting gay-bashers, who won it for Bush in 2004, have lost their power.
For Obama, an attritional ground-game election was neither pretty nor poetic. The ecstatic campaign of 2008 gave way to the ugliest mano-a-mano cage fight in memory, and his legitimacy will no more be accepted by those who think him a figment of the teleprompter’s imagination now than on Monday. As I write, the lead headline on Breitbart.com, a hilariously deranged right-wing site, read: “Courage For The Long War Ahead.”
The mad folk lost
Crazed Republican obstructionism will continue, and internecine civil strife will ensue, but that war is over. The mad folk, who will screech that this election was stolen, lost. The Confederate flag-wavers, Birthers and other assorted racists were routed in what John McCain’s campaign manager Steve Schmidt calls “a calamity” for a GOP that spent $1bn to leave the electoral map in effect unaltered.
Yet, in its wider context, this was by no means a plus ça change election. Something fundamental did change. Fact triumphed, narrowly but conclusively, over fiction, as science hammered faith and modernity licked nostalgia. A good man won the chance he deserves to cement the economic recovery he began, but the significant story isn’t really the redemption of the first black leader of the free world. Rather, it concerns a shrinking GOP’s withdrawal behind its all-white barricades; its ever deeper descent into the reality-defying bunker in which Karl Rove sought sanctuary.
Until this delusional, demented, often disgusting political party regains control of the asylum, it will not retake the presidency. What Margaret Thatcher once did to Labour and Ronald Reagan to the Democrats, Obama has done to the Republicans. Sending out the message “change or die” was hardly the zenith of his ambition four years ago, when Jesse Jackson wept with joy in that Chicago Park. As epitaphs to a tortured, flawed but hugely impressive first term go, however, the President could have done a lot worse than that.