Best and worst of times - plus the possibility of Clinton-Bush rematch


America: Few events could equal the sense of being at the epicentre of history in Chicago on election right

I felt a certain empathy for both candidates when the seemingly endless succession of airports, hotel rooms and campaign rallies ground to a halt on Wednesday morning.

President Obama, not a man prone to public displays of emotion, shed tears when thanking campaign staff in Chicago. That’s what people do when they’re tired.

As he disappears into the black hole of failed presidential candidates, Mitt Romney must be wondering what he’ll do with his life. Romney’s conservative fiscal instincts kicked in at the hour of defeat. By the time staff took taxis home from his concession speech, their campaign credit cards had already been cut off.

The campaign gave me some of the best and worst times I’ve known as a reporter. Few events could equal that sense of being at the epicentre of history in Chicago on election night. I’d been sorry to miss the 2008 celebration, but perhaps this one was better. Hope restored after trials and tribulations is coated with a patina of bittersweetness.

My worst moments also coincided with an Obama speech, through no fault of his. I covered the last two nights of the Democratic convention in Charlotte in a haze of codeine painkillers, from a Ramada Inn with peeling wallpaper and cockroaches, after tearing the ligaments in my right ankle.

When Romney’s “47 per cent video” was released in September, I recalled Bruce Perrault, a retired teacher I met at a Romney rally in New Hampshire last January. Perrault expressed disgust with the 47 per cent of Americans who don’t pay income tax.

The idea was obviously percolating in Republican circles.

I heard Obama called a communist Muslim, and Romney a fascist. I learned not to object to such nonsense; it made interviewees snap shut like clams. Romney rallies offered surreal moments: women in dirndls serving strudel to the sound of polka music in little Bavaria; the candidate boasting to an empty football stadium in Detroit that “my wife drives a couple of Cadillacs”.

There was humour too. Arriving at a Tea Party rally in a Michigan backwater on a cold night, I was greeted by a half-dozen youths brandishing “Don’t Believe the Liberal Media” placards. “I am the liberal media,” I blurted out, and we laughed together. They weren’t ideologues at all; just hard-up college students turned mercenaries for a right-wing group in Virginia.

A Tea Party activist in Florida said No to an interview because he’d read my reporting on the internet and didn’t like it. Right-wing candidates did not respond to interview requests, I suspect for the same reason.

George Blumel, a retired business executive I met at a Republican millionaires’ bash in Palm Beach, upbraided me for writing that Newt Gingrich “did not explain why that same policy (of lower taxes and less regulation) destroyed the economy under George W Bush.”

Five days before the election, I got an email from Michael Cahill, an Irish immigrant in Boston, accusing me of bias, predicting a Romney victory and warning that “next Wednesday morning you’re going to owe your Ireland-based readers an explanation. Just how did the IT RTÉ get the US election so wrong?”

For the truth, Cahill recommended the Wall Street Journal and the conservative Breitbart and Drudge websites. To his credit, he sent a second, apologetic email after the election. You know a political party is in trouble when someone alludes to “the rape candidate” and the reply is “which one?” An obsession with forcing women who get pregnant from rape to bear the rapists’ children doomed the campaigns of Republican Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.

But the far right is unrepentant. Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots blamed the defeat on “the Beltway elites and country club establishment wing of the Republican party” who “hand-picked” Romney.

Bill O’Reilly of Fox News says the “not traditional” majority that elected Obama did so because they “want stuff”, ie government handouts. Karl Rove, the eminence grise of George W Bush’s administration, propagates the myth that Romney would have won had Hurricane Sandy not broken his momentum. So much for the Republicans’ aggiornamento.

Obama pleaded for reconciliation and co-operation early Wednesday, then reportedly tried to reach Republican Congressional leaders John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. He was told both men were sleeping. Suppose for a moment that the men now responsible for their party’s fate really slept through the election results; when the president of the United States calls, most people pick up the telephone.

It seemed a bad omen for weeks to come, an indication that unlike Mitt Romney, I’ll have plenty of work to keep me busy. If the “fiscal cliff” weren’t enough to worry about, the 2016 campaign has already started. The conservative Florida senator Marco Rubio is on his way to Iowa, with an eye on the January 2016 primaries.

And Politico predicts a back to the future Clinton-Bush rematch, this time between Hillary and W’s bro’ Jeb.