EPISTEMIC CLOSURE WATCH: Was Romney convinced he was going to win?


Our tribe becomes more like their tribe: A few weeks ago, Thomas Ricks said MSNBC was almost as bad as Fox.

The Pulitzer winner went on Fox and aggressively said they were full of old shoes. But uh-oh! Even as our tribe’s cheering began, Ricks turned around and smacked The One True Channel:
HENNEBERGER (11/28/12): When I talked to [Ricks] Tuesday, he said yeah, actually, he had had some other TV invites, but we shouldn’t waste too much time clicking around looking for his next appearance: “MSNBC invited me, but I said, ‘You’re just like Fox, but not as good at it.’ They wrote back and said, ‘Thank you for your candor.’”
Is MSNBC “just like Fox, but not as good at it?” We wouldn’t put it like that. But increasingly, The One True Channel seems to exist to serve comfort food to true believers. And uh-oh:

Increasingly, we liberals have been showing the world that we enjoy being ditto-heads too! For a striking example of this problem, consider a thrilling but scammy report by the New Republic’s Noam Scheiber.

Scheiber is a former Rhodes Scholar. Assuming even minimal smarts, his piece is manifestly dishonest.

In his headline and his opening paragraph, Scheiber lets us believe that a treasured tale about crazy old Romney has turned out to be true. Was Romney convinced he was going to win? So convinced that he didn’t bother writing a concession speech? Was he convinced of this fact because his internal polling was crazily inaccurate?

Did this ridiculous state of affairs display the “epistemic closure” which grips the conservative world?

That’s what we liberals were happily saying shortly after the election. Now, in a thrilling but scammy exclusive, Scheiber says it’s all true:
SCHEIBER (11/30/12): Exclusive: The Internal Polls That Made Mitt Romney Think He'd Win

It’s no secret that the Romney campaign believed it was headed for victory on Election Day. A handful of outlets have reported that Team Romney’s internal polling showed North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia moving safely into his column and that it put him ahead in a few other swing states. When combined with Ohio, where the internal polling had him close, Romney was on track to secure all the electoral votes he needed to win the White House. The confidence in these numbers was such that Romney even passed on writing a concession speech, at least before the crotchety assignment-desk known as “reality” finally weighed in.

Less well-known, however, are the details of the polls that led Romney to believe he was so close to the presidency. Which other swing states did Romney believe he was leading in, and by how much? What did they tell him about where to spend his final hours of campaigning? Why was his team so sanguine about its own polling, even though it often parted company with the publicly available data? In an exclusive to The New Republic, a Romney aide has provided the campaign’s final internal polling numbers for six key states, along with additional breakdowns of the data, which the aide obtained from the campaign’s chief pollster, Neil Newhouse. Newhouse himself then discussed the numbers with TNR.
In that first paragraph, Scheiber seems to confirm the whole pleasing tale—although, if you’re a careful reader, you can already see him using the weasel words which can deceive true believers.

If you read that opening paragraph carefully, you’ll note that Scheiber doesn’t say that Romney’s polls actually showed him ahead of Obama. Deep in his piece, he reveals that Romney’s polls apparently didn’t show him ahead—but you have to read with care to catch the youngster saying it.

Here's how the con went down:

Scheiber says he has been given Romney’s internal polling from six states—Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. He doesn’t explain why he wasn’t given data from other key states which were being polled, like Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Nevada.

At any rate, Scheiber says that Romney’s internal polls on the final weekend showed him ahead in New Hampshire and Colorado, two states he eventually lost. He says they showed him tied in Iowa, another state he lost.

But uh-oh! Even if Romney had won those three states, he still wouldn’t have won the White House! If you read Scheiber’s report with great care, you will eventually see him say this:
SCHEIBER: Together, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Iowa go most of the way toward explaining why the Romney campaign believed it was so well-positioned. When combined with North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia—the trio of states the Romney campaign assumed were largely in the bag—Romney would bank 267 electoral votes, only three shy of the magic number. Furthermore, according to Newhouse, the campaign’s final internal polls had Romney down a mere two points in Ohio—a state that would have put him comfortably over the top—and Team Romney generally believed it had momentum in the final few days of the race…While none of this should have been grounds for the sublime optimism that leads you to eschew a concession speech—two points is still a ton to make up in a state like Ohio in 48 hours—you see how the campaign might conclude that the pieces were falling into place.
Please note: Romney still would have lost the election if he had won New Hampshire, Colorado, and Iowa. If you add in Ohio, he would have won—but Scheiber was told that Romney’s internal polling showed him behind in that state. And uh-oh! This whole fandango is predicated on the assumption that Romney’s internal polling showed him winning Virginia and Florida, two more states he lost.

Unfortunately, Scheiber has no evidence in support of that claim. He wasn’t shown the internal polling for those states—and he doesn’t explain why he was denied those data.

Scheiber is running a scam. The internal polling he says he has seen did not show Romney winning the White house. At best, it shows him squeaking to a narrow comeback win—but only if you assume a victory in in Ohio, where Scheiber was told that Romney's polling had him two points behind.

(Again—Ohio would only put Romney over the top if he also won Virginia and Florida. And Scheiber has no internal polling from those two vital states.)

Noam Scheiber is running a scam. He’s feeding us a story we love while pretending he has the evidence for it. According to Scheiber, Romney was so convinced he was going to win that didn’t bother writing a concession speech! But why was he so sure he would win?

Of course! Because of his internal polling—polling which showed him behind!

Fox has played the game this way for a good many years. Fox offers its viewers manifest bullshit—and its viewers, being non-professionals (and perhaps true believers), are willing to truly believe.

Sadly, this is what happened around the liberal world in the wake of Scheiber’s scam. For starters, let’s review the reactions of Ezra Klein and Alex Wagner.

Last Friday night, Klein served as guest host on The Last Word. Because Klein is smart, you can feel fairly sure that he understood the basic fact here.

Almost surely, Klein knew the polling Scheiber was shown didn’t show Romney winning.

Indeed, one of Klein’s guests this night was Nate Cohn (AKA Nate the Lesser), the New Republic’s thoroughly competent polling guru. And good lord! Midway through the clownish segment, The Lesser Nate spilled the beans:
COHN (11/30/12): The final thing is, even if they thought all these numbers were true, they were still losing. These numbers add up to 267 electoral votes. They were still down in Ohio by two. And was momentum going to make two points worth of difference in the final two days? Maybe. But that's not enough to not write a concession speech.
Fleetingly, Cohen noted a blindingly obvious fact—this pleasing story doesn’t make sense. Even if the Romney campaign thought it would win Iowa, New Hampshire and Colorado, Romney was still behind in the race!

Simple story: The polling Scheiber says he was shown doesn’t tend to support the claim that Romney and his campaign were sure they were going to win. In reality, Scheiber’s data tend to undermine our beloved tribal story.

Why would you be convinced you were going to win on the basis of polling which showed you were losing? Quite literally, this story doesn't add up. But as with the ditto-heads, so too with true-believing liberals.

As with Hannity and O’Reilly, so too with Wagner and Klein.

Right from the start, Klein’s segment was built around the liberal gods, Snark and Snide. Even after Cohen spilled the beans, Klein and Wagner continued their tribal snarking:
KLEIN: If your numbers say you are losing and you lose, that shouldn't be something no one on the campaign saw coming. Alex, John Bernstein, who is this political scientist who writes a plain blog about politics that's called—had a really I thought interesting point on this. And he said, What the Romney campaign did here was completely rational. Every campaign needs to believe they can win. If they don’t believe they can win, they are going to lose.

So fooling yourself is a totally rational thing to do if you are a campaign. Do you buy that reasoning? Was there a kind of master plan here, at least internally?

WAGNER: I think the hive mentality on some level is I guess excusable in a political campaign. But this is a willful disavowal of reality, Ezra. Remember, if you will, this is the same campaign, the same party that sort of said these polls, they are partisan polls, and these polls are showing Obama up because they want to disenfranchise and discourage Romney voters from coming out and voting on November 6th.

That’s an incredible amount of hubris. Who is running that closely and doesn’t write an concession speech? Ann Romney had a victory bouffant on her head. This family was ready to win. And you know, it is part and parcel of the broader strategy. Time and time again, people would say, Romney, you can't run on this. You can't win an election on this. They doubled down.

I mean, this was a group of people that underestimated the American public from the very beginning. So the fact that they had these polls that were, A, not very good, but they would believe them until the bitter end and make no concessions otherwise is not that surprising.

KLEIN: To be fair, I would never miss an opportunity to wear my victory bouffant.

WAGNER: I know you wouldn't, Ezra. But you’re a special category.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Whoring horribly, these very wealthy enfants terribles clowned about Ann Romney’s victory bouffant as they toyed with us rubes.

This resembles the way their Fox counterparts feed tribal comfort food to conservative viewers. Unless your lizard has you blinded, of course.

Wagner was willfully stupid this night. Did Romney write a concession speech? Like us, she has no way of knowing. The idea that he didn’t do so comes from one source—from Romney himself, on election day, as he maintained a brave front about the evening’s prospects.

Candidates always do that, no matter how they think they stand. The fact that Romney made that statement gives us exactly zero reason to believe the statement was true. And by the way: It doesn’t take a lot of effort to write a concession speech! There's really no reason to write such a speech until you finally have to.

Duh. In victory, candidates tend to deliver full speeches. Not so much in defeat.

Whorishly, Klein and Wagner clowned and cavorted, treating their viewers like fools in the process. But then, all around the liberal world, true believers were eager to truly believe this pleasing tale.

How bad did the true belief get? Remarkably, Paul Krugman linked to Scheiber’s scam and offered this true belief:
KRUGMAN (11/30/12): We now know that Romney’s internal polls were wildly wrong, and that, incredibly, he went into Election Day confident of victory. My immediate question is not so much why those polls were wrong, but rather why the campaign didn’t have severe doubts about what its pollsters were telling them.

I mean, anyone who clicked on Nate Silver got a very different view of the race, with the vast majority of public polls portraying an Obama edge. Why wasn’t Romney, or someone else at the top level, asking hard questions about why the internal polls were so different, and why the pollsters believed they knew so much better, not just than the public polls, but than the obviously confident Obama team?


The point isn’t just that right-wingers believe in their own reality, but that they don’t think it matters that other people have different versions of reality. And no, this isn’t symmetric: liberals don’t consider it unnecessary to know what conservatives are thinking, or dismiss actually influential figures as marginal. Liberal may despise Rush Limbaugh, but they won’t dismiss him as a marginal figure nobody listens to.
“Right-wingers believe in their own reality,” Krugman wrote, even as he furthered a process by which we liberals chose to believe in our own.

How foolishly have we truly believed this tribal story? Let us count the ways:
Counting the ways:
There is no evidence that Romney was convinced he was going to win—that “he went into Election Day confident of victory.”

There is no evidence that he didn’t write a concession speech.

If he didn’t write a concession speech, there is no evidence that he failed to do so because he’d been fooled by his polls.

There is no evidence that Romney wasn’t “asking hard questions about why the internal polls were so different” from public polls. We simply choose to believe that.
Finally, Scheiber has no serious evidence that Romney’s overall polling was wildly wrong on that last weekend, although of course it may have been. He says he was shown the polls from six states—but that leaves a bunch of other states whose polling he wasn’t shown.

Obviously, you can’t assess the overall state of the Romney polling unless you get to review all the states. Unless you choose to truly believe a pleasing tribal story.

Alex Wagner’s a glib, highly telegenic hack. Ezra Klein is willing to play it one way at the Washington Post, another way on TV, where the money is.

Scheiber, a former Rhodes Scholar, should no longer be trusted at all. Just for the record, there is no tribe that is more grasping that the tribe of former Rhodes Scholars.

Now for the worst news of all:

Increasingly, Krugman buys every partisan tribal assessment which comes down the pike. “This isn’t symmetric,” he says in his post, assuring us that we don’t behave the way that ridiculous Other Tribe does.

As he assures us of this fact, his gullibility regarding this matter shows that we frequently do.

We don’t agree with Ricks’ assessment concerning Fox and The One True Channel. But as we watch manifest nonsense like this, it’s obvious why a person like Ricks would be inclined to make it.

Elsewhere on The One True Channel: This manifest bullshit was also advanced on last Friday’s Sharpton program, with Dana Milbank playing along. And on Hardball, needless to say, with Bob Shrum clowning along.

(Matthews: “Tonight, how their own polls fooled the Romney campaign into thinking they had this baby won!”)

One distinction:

When Klein and Wagner played viewers for fools, viewers at least got to hear, in one fleeting moment, that Romney’s internal polls didn’t show him ahead of Obama. On Hardball and on Sharpton’s show, you were never told that at all.

So it goes as the One True Channel behaves a lot like Fox.


  1. My own take is this. In spite of the electoral college landslide, it really WAS very close. Close enough that if you flip 207,000 votes in just five states, Romney wins.

    Note, by "flip" I mean convince 207,000 Obama voters to change their mind and vote for Romney instead. I don't mean flip them by hacking voting machines.

    1. Quaker in a BasementDecember 4, 2012 at 2:12 AM

      "...it really WAS very close. Close enough that if you flip 207,000 votes in just five states...

      How does this compare with other recent elections?

  2. We actually do have evidence that Romney didn't write a concession speech that was one of the reasons we were given for why it took so long for him to concede. And Krugman is correct that the polls released were indeed way off the public ones.

  3. Those who read "The Gamble" know that Ricks is capable of producing journalism as bad as anything on Fox or MSNBC.

  4. Of course, the conspiracy-minded -- and anyone knowledgeable about the 2004 Ohio presidential election results must include themselves -- might consider that a similar 2012 Republican "fix" failed.

    This failure could be why the Romney camp was so shocked on election night.

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