New York's Heilemann Worried Tuesday Obama Would Lose, Despite His Term of 'Enormous Heft and Consequence'

After (accurately) arguing victory was slipping away from Romney on Monday, New York magazine political writer (and frequent MSNBC pundit) John Heilemann broke out in a sweat on Tuesday, fearing an electoral vote/popular vote victory split, or Obama just losing.

"If the EV/PV split does occur, Obama's people fret that it will be terrible for the country and will make it much harder for the president to govern effectively. And this fear seems to me well-founded: In light of the rejectionist tendency regarding Obama's legitimacy that already exists on the right — together with its lunatic voter fraud paranoia — it is hard to imagine the fever-swamp hatred of him not being exacerbated by such an outcome." He also penned an obituary for a one-term Obama presidency of "enormous heft," if it had happened:

There is, to be sure, an even more nightmarish possibility from the Democratic point of view: Despite all the polling and other evidence that suggests he is on track to win, Obama could simply lose outright. Beyond the political and policy implications for the country, how bitter this pill would be for Obama is impossible to overstate. More than he almost ever lets on, the president wears the mantle of history heavily on his shoulders. And he knows that, if he is defeated, a narrative will arise that recasts him in the minds of many from a seminal figure to a pedestrian one, and that renders his presidency a failed, one-term accident.

It is difficult to quarrel with the observation that there are few if any presidents in our history who lasted just four years in office for whom greatness can plausibly be claimed. But it is also impossible, at least for me, not to note that Obama, in getting elected at all, achieved something profound and lasting. His record in office includes accomplishments — the staving off of a second Great Depression, the passage of a near-universal health-care law — of enormous heft and consequence. If in a few hours, he is able to stand onstage in Chicago and claim victory, he will have a chance to put even bigger numbers on the scoreboard and perhaps place himself in the ranks of our most successful presidents. And if he loses, he will have done so fighting the good fight.

Before that, Heilemann typically blamed the Republicans (and then Obama just a smidge) for a lack of bipartisanship, and said Obama was delusional to expect the fever to break on partisanship:

Having sought the presidency on a platform whose central plank was post-partisanship, Obama ended up governing through four years that were even more divisive and polarizing than the sixteen that had come before. Much of the blame for this belongs to the Republicans, who adopted a clear and not ineffective strategy of relentless opposition to anything and everything Obama attempted to achieve. But some of the responsibility lay with him — on one view for not pursuing bipartisanship aggressively enough, on another for being so naive to have thought it was feasible at all.

All this year, Obama has argued, or at least postulated, that this fractiousness will come to an end if he wins reelection. "I think the general election will be as sharp a contrast between the two parties as we've seen in a generation," he told Rolling Stone last spring. "My hope is that if the American people send a message to [the GOP] ... there's going to be some self-reflection going on — that it might break the fever."

Obama may or may not believe that, but if he does, I suspect we will need to lock him up in Bellevue for suffering from severe delusions. Given the relentless negativity of the campaign we have witnessed from both sides, my guess is that, if Obama does win today, things will be just as ugly, if not uglier, than they've been for the past four years.

Tim Graham's picture