Prominent Republicans just can't believe Mitt Romney is losing the presidential race. And that's largely why he's losing.
The usual caveats apply—five and a half weeks can be a lifetime in politics. Polls are imperfect, especially when methodologies differ. Turnout is especially critical this year, and we won't know until Election Day what that will look like. But there is a fundamental problem with GOP has had from the start of this race—and the start can arguably be defined as the day of President Barack Obama's inauguration. And that is that so many of Obama's foes have never really accepted him as president, or even truly believed he is legitimately the president.
There are the birthers, of course, those who are illogically still convinced that Obama was not born in the United States. But there are also those who (while giving some aid and comfort to the birther brigade) might know Obama was legitimately elected president, but still don't think he really is, on some level.
There was the GOP leader, for example, who complained at a roundtable discussion about healthcare that the Democrats were being given more time to talk than the Republicans. A quick time-check showed that the breakdown between Democrats and Republicans was even almost to the second. The only speaking time that would add to the Democrats' tally was that consumed by Obama himself—and he is, as he gently chided the GOP leader, the president. It's as though the opposing party sees Obama as not the leader of the country, but another member of the Democratic Party (or the "Democrat Party," as many in the GOP ungrammatically and derisively call it) who was on the same level as a congressman or senator.
Most recently, we have failed presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who was hounded from congressional office amid ethics complaints and a poor GOP showing in the mid-terms, who still—almost four years later—can't believe Obama lives and works in the White House. Said Gingrich:
[Obama] really is like the substitute [National Football League] referees in the sense that he's not a real president. He doesn't do anything that presidents do, he doesn't worry about any of the things the presidents do, but he has the White House, he has enormous power, and he'll go down in history as the president, and I suspect that he's pretty contemptuous of the rest of us.
There's contempt here, but it's coming from Gingrich. And that is his right to dislike the president, but it's a poor election strategy.
Media technology has allowed people on all parts of the political spectrum to select their news, or "news," according to what reinforces their respective views of the world. They read Web sites or watch networks that parrot their own views. And so the readers and viewers start thinking there is no one in the country who thinks differently than they do. It's not even about having an honest or even a dishonest disagreement with someone—there is simply not even an acknowledgement that different-thinking individuals even exist.
That's distasteful from a social and small-d democratic perspective, but it's also just really bad strategy. It's a basic rule of diplomacy to understand how foreign governments and people think. It's not an endorsement, just a recognition. So we don't have to, for example, agree with people who are over-the-top offended by a disgusting video about the prophet Muhammed. But we need to understand that that is how many Muslims view it, so we can deal with it diplomatically.
The same is true for domestic politics. Republicans were so busy shaking their heads in wonderment that anyone ever voted for Obama, they didn't stop to think about why other people find him appealing. Romney's campaign has been largely built around one theme: I'm not Obama. That's a powerful argument, if everyone thinks like you do. But they don't. And it may be too late for the Romney campaign to regroup and adjust.