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Nate Silver’s Probabilities vs Peggy Noonan’s Feelings

November 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Nate SIlver and Peggy Noonan


As part of the introspection that conservative partisans like Peggy Noonan are engaged in after the resounding reelection victory for President Obama Tuesday, surely one of the aspects of this exercise will be coming to the acceptance of the primacy of facts and research over emotion.

As conservatives started aiming their ire at New York Times numbers-cruncher, Nate Silver, in the closing weeks of the campaign, it is now apparent that all the froth was about what Silver was saying not the way he went about coming to his conclusions.  They were shooting the messenger.  And with every broadside, it seemed Silver would just keep upping Obama’s victory probabilities until by the final day, they had crested above 90%.   And for the second Presidential election in a row, he was spot on, accurately predicting 50 out of 50 states (presuming Florida finishes where it is now).

Over at the Wall Street Journal, former Ronald Reagan speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, seemed to be mocking Silver’s nerdy numbers approach by predicting a Mitt Romney victory based on, among other things,  the size of the Republican candidate’s closing crowds, their decibel levels, even her perception of how Romney lawn signs were outnumbering Obama’s.

There is no denying the Republicans have the passion now, the enthusiasm. The Democrats do not. Independents are breaking for Romney. And there’s the thing about the yard signs. In Florida a few weeks ago I saw Romney signs, not Obama ones. From Ohio I hear the same. From tony Northwest Washington, D.C., I hear the same.

She even magically entered the heads of the candidates at the annual Al Smith dinner in New York where she interpreted what she saw as an uncomfortable and distracted Barack Obama as someone who looked like they had just read disturbing data.

But sitting there listening to the jokes and speeches, the archbishop of New York sitting between them, Obama looked like a young challenger—flinty, not so comfortable. He was distracted, and his smiles seemed forced. He looked like a man who’d just seen some bad internal polling. Romney? Expansive, hilarious, self-spoofing, with a few jokes of finely calibrated meanness that were just perfect for the crowd. He looked like a president. He looked like someone who’d just seen good internals.

The remarkable thing about Noonan’s approach to political prognosticating, is that you’d think she’d know better by now.  She’s had her hand in the political game for nearly half a century.  Not that she’s alone in couching her hopes on imaginary factors she thinks she sees, like massive, noisy, huge campaign crowds at Republican rallies, advantages in political lawn signs, or someone’s demeanor sitting at a dais.   It’s natural- it’s human  to hope against hope.

Granted I was all of 16 at the time, but I remember feeling such hope for George McGovern in 1972.  Surely, polls can be wrong.  I mean, wow, 20 thousand people came out for him at one event or another.  How could a decorated World War II Air Force veteran with such strength of character be losing to Richard Nixon, for Christ’s sake.

Not too dissimilar, I suppose, from a conservative partisan thinking how such a good, religious, responsible family guy like Romney could possibly be losing to the likes of Barack Hussein Obama, for Christ’s sake.

Well, McGovern, of course, would go on to win  only Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. and Mitt Romney would go on to lose every single swing state in the election except for North Carolina (and again, we await Florida).

The lessons here are obvious.  Not that it really matters, of course, if pundits get their predictions right or horribly wrong- they are paid to bloviate no matter what.  But if one wants to be accurate and be taken seriously again someday- it would be wise to keep emotions out of it.

It would be essential, I think, to not let your observations be colored by your tribal leanings.  It might make sense to understand that 21st century polling, for example, is actually a science and that the study of statistical probability actually has an anchor in reality.

The trick for those who want to be in the business of predicting things, is learning to accept that the facts you see may not be what you wish they were.  It’s human, even endearing to think that wishing can make things happen.  But it’s not very professional.

 

Eastwooding: Gigantic Oops

August 31, 2012 2 comments

One of hundreds of “Eastwooding” images in which various dogs, cats, and humans interact with empty chairs

I’m trying to think who I would most like not to be in the Romney campaign today.  The guy who told Clint Eastwood: “Nah, go ahead, wing it.”   Or the campaign aid who cornered Eastwood in the green room.  “I know this sounds nuts, Clint, but what if we put you on stage with an empty chair?”

Most human beings with a computer and an internet connection are aware by now that beloved actor, Clint Eastwood, laid a bit of an egg on the closing night of the Republican convention with a sometimes incoherent, rambling, unscripted monologue-type-thing with an empty chair as a prop that contained an invisible Barack Obama.

Certainly a unique event in the annals of political convention history, it may well go down as one of the greatest blunders in modern political stagecraft.  In his introduction to Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio delivered a strong speech that added greatly to his rising-star status.  Romney gave what many say was the best speech he’d ever delivered.

But all anybody is talking about is the back-fire of Eastwood’s bizarre appearance.  The explosion in social media has been massive and mocking.  It is truly the stuff of cultural legend, likely to become as lasting an image as Ted Kennedy turning his back on Jimmy Carter in 1980.  An unfortunate iconic image.

The convention planners must have been completely horrified.  The event lasted just over 14 minutes, but they had to have started getting worried about 4 minutes in.  The crowd seemed to like it but the staging of conventions is not meant for the few thousand in attendance.  It’s the television, radio, and digital audience that matters, as well as the consensus media coverage that follows.  On those screens and speakers, it came off awkward and weird and it created a firestorm of instant, universal opinion- from CBS News to the New York Daily News to Entertainment Tonight- the Mother of All Distractions- obscuring the nominee’s moment in the spotlight.

Even worse, Eastwood’s appearance supplanted a moving, well-produced film biography of the nominee that ended up not being shown by the television networks to the prime-time audience.   Those films are important.  Many credit the one produced for Bill Clinton at the 1992 Democratic convention, “A Place Called Hope,” as an important factor in the eventual turn-around that elected him to the White House.

Mitt Romney deserved better than the events that transpired on closing night.  Somebody screwed up big time.

Supreme Court Throws Health Care Forecasters a Curve Ball

Intertrade had rejection of the individual mandate of the health care law a 70% certainty. Most people had followed CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin’s take on the arguments that seemed to have gone so terribly wrong for the White House back in March. And they were all wrong.

President Obama has Chief Justice John Roberts to thank for saving the Affordable Care Act. Astoundingly, Roberts, who has voted 90% of the time with the other four Republican appointees, joined the court’s four liberal justices.

What many apparently discounted, was the extent that Roberts cares about political appearances. It took some intellectual gymnastics, but, in the end, it seems the Chief Justice wanted, at all costs, to preserve the integrity of the court against perceptions it had become a blatantly political body. Or, in the true meaning of the word “conservative,” he’s the kind of judge who believes it should be very difficult to alter existing law. Or both.

The gymnastics involved was the majority of the court labeling the “fee” that would be imposed on Americans who do not get health insurance a “tax,” a word that was never actually written in the legislation and a characterization which the President vehemently denied. But basically the court’s majority was saying, if the politicians were obviously afraid to call a tax what it really is- as NPR’s Nina Totenberg put it in her analysis of the court’s action, regardless, “If it looks like a tax and acts like tax, it’s a tax.”

And that’s key because there were five justices, including Roberts, who were of the opinion that a universally charged “fee” would have been a violation of the commerce clause of the constitution; they would argue you can’t force people from all 50 different states to pay a fee if they don’t get insurance. But a tax is different. The notion that the Federal government has the right to levy a tax has long been established.

The other part of the gymnastics that seems pretty conflicted is that there’s a law Congress passed that says courts don’t rule on the constitutionality of taxes until they are actually levied and this part of the health care law has not gone into effect yet. In this aspect of the case though, Roberts deferred to Congress’ assertion in the law that it is a fee, they instituted, not a tax. To justify this decision, Roberts had to kind of have it both ways.

So where to now? President Obama gets to explain to the American public what it is that the high court saved today- because his previous communication efforts with the nation in regard to the benefits of the health care law have been widely regarded as abysmal.

And, of course, what many have called his singular accomplishment as President remains intact. Mitt Romney said earlier in the week that rejection of the health care law by the high court would have meant Obama had wasted his first three years in office. That one’s out the window.

But Republicans will likely be all fired up by what they see as a slap in the face by the court. There will be symbolic but ineffective efforts in the House to repeal the law (the Democratic-controlled Senate will never go along). Mitt Romney will make it a mantra in every speech from now until November. Republicans will now be able to use “tax increase” against the President, and overall, it seems the court’s decision will further the stark nature of the choices voters face in November- namely- the role of government in our lives.

Finally, there was a lot of ridiculous speculation and forecasting about how this ruling would go. And you know which one ended up being 100% accurate? There’s a company that makes a business out of analyzing facial expressions. According to their analysis of the way the justices reacted on the bench during the arguments- there were five justices who smiled the most. The four liberals and Chief Justice John Roberts.

For whatever reasons he took the path he did, it would appear it is John Roberts who gets the last laugh.

Democrats Way Angrier With Hilary Rosen than Republicans


I don’t doubt a lot of the G.O.P. anger at the Democratic strategist’s comments that Ann Romney “has never worked a day in her life,” is totally genuine. But it would also be political malpractice if they didn’t take tactical advantage of the gift handed them by Hilary Rosen.

With the President enjoying an 18% advantage with women voters, Democrats were beside themselves today at Rosen’s clumsy words which she continued to double and triple and quadruple down on as night turned to morning. In an article on Huffington Post she further accused Mitt Romney of hiding behind his wife’s skirt. Within a couple of hours, that particular sentence had been magically scrubbed clean.

Apoplectic Democrats including the President, the Vice President, the First Lady, the Obama team’s campaign manager, his top advisors, and for all we know, Bo, the First Family’s dog, were falling all over themselves distancing themselves as far as possible from Rosen.

Republicans are now trying to paint her as a close advisor, an Obama intimate- the President’s brain. She is, in fact, the ultimate Washington insider. The PR firm she works for advises the Democratic National Committee and she gets invited to White House state dinners, but that’s about the extent of it. Certainly, whatever minor political influence she may have had is pretty much now dust in the wind.

The point Rosen was trying to make is that Mitt Romney’s efforts to close the gender gap by saying his wife is a key advisor on the economic plight facing the nation’s women provides a narrow view because Ann Romney has had distinct economic advantages through her life.

But as a breast cancer survivor, a victim of Multiple Sclerosis, and as a woman who raised five boys, Ann Romney is also an incredibly sympathetic figure who most political observers agree connects with voters way more effectively than her husband. So on top of that, Rosen’s perceived additional attack on “stay-at-home” moms, was possibly not the smartest move for a political “strategist.” One wonders, while she was at it, why Rosen didn’t go on and assault apple pie as well.

As the Ozzie Guillen of politics (the Miami Marlins Manager who set off a firestorm by telling Time magazine he loved Fidel Castro), Ms. Rosen is not very popular right now in Democratic circles. I think she’s been invited to her last White House dinner and if I were her, I would not be looking for an invitation to the Democratic convention either.

Is this a lasting issue? I think so. The Romney’s will shortly be giving an interview to ABC’s Dianne Sawyer. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to hear Mitt Romney make reference to the matter in his convention speech. Ann Romney has been made a heroine and her value to the campaign, in general, is now enormous.

As more than a few conservative bloggers have pointed out today, who would have thought it would be a Democratic “strategist” who would finally unite the Republican Party behind their presumed nominee?

Wow- What a Romney Win- America: Hold on to Your Hats


That’s the headline Matt Drudge and some guy named Keith Koffler would like all mainstream media to write this morning following last night’s Super Tuesday primaries.

A suddenly developing theme today among the establishment representatives of the conservative media is that there’s clearly bias if we don’t all report what a wonderful night Mitt Romney had.

Well, he didn’t. It was an o.k. night, a night that tells us what we’ve known all along- that the guy with the only professional political operation among the remaining field of candidates is probably going to end up getting the nomination. But, jeez, he’s doing it in such a painfully slow manner, it may yet be months before we are all finally able to declare the inevitable.

Drudge, hilariously, has a one-word headline under a picture of Mitt Romney holding an Olympic torch, standing with hand over his heart and the caption is FINALLY. Finally, what? Finally, Super Tuesday is over? Finally, all four remaining candidates move on to the next excruciating round of inconclusive primaries? Finally, the Drudge Report makes it inescapably clear that it is supporting the candidacy of Mitt Romney?

Drudge links to this fellow Koffler who outlines the conspiratorial thinking of the mainstream media in denying Romney his due for having vanquished all opposition last night. Except he didn’t. Rick Santorum took three states and nearly defeated Romney in Ohio having been outspent by the Romney Super Pac machine there by more than 10 to 1. The Romney people thought they were going to win their first truly contested southern state- Tennessee. They had internal polling showing Romney closing in fast. Santorum ended up winning by 9%. Romney finished 22% behind Newt Gingrich in Georgia. Exit surveys find Romney unable to make a dent in the evangelical or Tea Party vote, his negatives are sky-high, and poll after poll finds he is not connecting with blue-collar voters.

But Romney did take the lion’s share of the delegates available last night. His opponents are so well organized that except for Ron Paul, they couldn’t even manage to get themselves on the ballot in Virginia. And Rick Santorum’s operation is so amateur hour that even in counties he won big last night in Ohio, the campaign failed to field slates of delegates.

So here’s the real story and the accurate headline: Romney Stumbles Toward Finish Line. I didn’t copy it from the Washington Post or the New York Times or Politico.com. I used my very own brain which has been professionally observing American politics for over 35 years now as a news anchor, a reporter, a producer and a broadcast news executive.

And the mainstream media at large, whose headlines closely resemble the one I wrote in the paragraph above, are not involved in some massive anti-Romney conspiracy. If so many people are writing the same thing- sometimes- every now and again- it’s not because they’re reading over each others shoulders or attending a massive mainstream media conspiracy conference call every morning- it’s because we all pretty much saw the same thing unfold before our very own eyes.

The Perils of Political Forecasting

February 14, 2012 Leave a comment


Seems obvious, of course, but it’s all about the unknown. Things that seem logical on paper have a way of being ripped apart by unexpected events.

It seemed an absolute given, for example, that a President drowning in 9% unemployment figures would make an easy target. Entire political campaigns- like Mitt Romney’s- have been built on that assumption. Enter the “turnaround specialist” strategy. Touting his business and private sector credentials, Romney built a logical model for the foundation of a political strategy. Except what happens to this course if the economy starts recovering and unemployment starts dropping significantly?

In this case, many pundits are making the argument that an improving economy is one of the reasons Rich Santorum has surged. Widely seen as a candidate more focused on championing the conservative position on social issues from abortion and gay marriage to birth control and women’s role in the military, the theory goes that conservative voters will gravitate to politicians with strong social views absent alarm over the state of the economy.

Except what happens if all hell breaks loose in the world and, say, Israel decides to bomb Iran in a preemptive attempt to delay or kill off their nuclear capability? With the world on full alert in the case of such military action, Iran under attack and closing the Strait of Hormuz, and tensions escalating throughout the Middle East- it kind of makes birth control a bit of a back-seat issue, doesn’t it?

And what of the recently embraced assumptions that the American economy is on the mend and that with the President’s approval ratings on the rise, he is looking much more secure in his reelection efforts?

Looks good- except what happens if Italy, Spain and Greece go into default and world stock markets panic and the business climate suddenly becomes toxic out of fear and uncertainty? This would be the double-dip recession scenario.

But it doesn’t take cataclysmic events like war or the collapse of the European economy to change the political calculus. Today, for example, there are reports that retail sales were really sluggish in January. Maybe the jobless drop last month was just a positive blip in a still rocky road to recovery.

There’s concern that with gas prices already at $3.50 a gallon in the U.S., unusually high for this early in the year, that there could easily be $5 a gallon gas by election day. That’s a squeeze on consumers that could make for some pretty angry voters.

Taken to its extreme, the argument about the effects of unforeseen events on politics can get silly. What happens if a large meteorite strikes the Earth. What happens if a sudden burst of radiation from the Sun melts our electrical grid and modern society collapses. You could go on and on.

But here’s the thing: Our own Secretary of Defense says there’s a chance Israel really will launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, possibly as early as the spring. Moody’s really did downgrade the economies of Spain, Italy, and Portugal this week and warns the same may be in store for France and England. Gasoline prices really are already high- even without a Middle East war.

The problem with those who make political predictions for a living- the punditry class- is they can only base their assumptions on the present and guess a little on what else might happen.

But anybody who’s willing to venture a prediction about who will win the next election in November is full of it. Remember that if turns out, say Jeb Bush, is standing on the west front of the Capitol building taking the oath of office next January.

How’d that happen? We don’t know now. But we’ll know then after a zillion words will have been written about how reality is stranger than fiction and how weird it was that the incredibly implausible scenario came to pass.

Mitt Just Can’t Close the Deal

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Notice how every time Mitt Romney starts looking inevitable, something seems to happen that delays the coronation? Last night, it was Rick Santorum that happened. And what a strategic blunder by the Romney campaign.

None of these elections Tuesday were supposed to matter. No real delegates at stake, mostly beauty contests/caucuses. There was hardly any pre-election polling. Most of the media didn’t even bother to travel to Tuesday’s election states. The Romney folks didn’t even try, short of offering up some last minute criticisms about Santorum being a fan of ear marks, making him out to be some sort of secret free spender or something.

Note to Romney campaign team: if you’re not going to actively compete why even enter the race? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to say, “Well, what do you expect? He wasn’t on the ballot.”

The rest of the month is pretty sparse by way of primaries or caucuses. Rick Santorum now gets a few weeks of limelight and the Romney folks get a few weeks of doubt. Doubt created by coming in a distant 3rd in Minnesota, a state he had no problem with against John McCain four years ago. Doubt created by the prospect, having lost Iowa and Missouri, of a Republican Party that nominates a candidate with little appeal in the heartland. And he lost Colorado too- a huge, key swing state.

And Newt Gingrich is still around and likely to do pretty well in a lot of southern states. He’ll get his share of votes too on Super Tuesday next month. Let’s not forget Ron Paul who actually beat Romney last night in Minnesota.

On paper, Mitt Romney and his Super Pacs and organization look unbeatable. But how long will it take? How much more negative carpet bombing can the party endure as the candidates keep sniping at each other and continue to write Obama’s campaign ads for him?

The Romney strategy so far seems to be going nuclear on whoever else starts tip-toeing close to him. Five million bucks against Newt in Iowa. Nine million bucks against Newt in Florida. No doubt, the anti-Santorum attack ads are being produced as we speak.

Ninety percent of it so far has been negative advertising that does a good job eviscerating your opponent but also drives up your own negatives. And to avoid blunders, Romney has now stopped doing town hall meetings and, my guess is, very few media interviews in the days ahead; not exactly a formula for connecting with the voters.

Romney may well win a battle of attrition. Republicans will end up gathering around him, united in their virulent opposition to the Obama presidency. But he may also end up a wounded nominee going up against a well-funded incumbent with the backdrop of a suddenly improving economy- and that’s a daunting task.

Newt Crushed by Coordinated GOP Establishment Assault

January 27, 2012 Leave a comment

It was so much more than the last debate before the all-important Florida primary next Tuesday. It was a day-long, incredibly well-choreographed attack from all corners of the Republican “establishment.” It looked like a political version of the Normandy invasion.

Mitt Romney closed the deal with his strongest debate performance to date- turning into the Alpha Male before our very eyes. Either Newt Gingrich was off his game or it turns out he really has only one trick- attack the media- but not much else.

Thursday, January 26, 2012 started out with the Drudge Report in full battle-cry: Get Newt. Headline after screaming headline bashed the former Speaker of the House. In the afternoon, former GOP Presidential candidate, Bob Dole issued a scathing letter that pretty much described Newt’s tenure as leader of the party in the 1980’s as an unmitigated disaster.

On the ground in Florida, pro-Romney supporters, including Congressmen, attended Gingrich rallies and made themselves available to reporters to issue instant counter charges to whatever Newt had just attacked on.

Earlier in the week, Gingrich complained about an NBC debate that enforced a no-cheering rule and he threatened to boycott any debates in which the audience was silenced. Last night, CNN had no such rules but Newt forgot to pack the crowd. Every Romney supporter in three states showed up.

And then brilliantly coached by a new debate prep team, Mitt Romney counter-attacked effectively all night long. He finally got comfortable with his wealth and unapologetically defended his financial success.

Not that other candidates did not have a good night. Rick Santorum was articulate and scored points against both Romney and Gingrich. Ron Paul constantly charmed the audience with his humble humor. But neither Santorum or Paul are seriously contesting Florida. They’ve got little advertising and very few troops in the field.

The coordinated assault on Gingrich was born of fear. Deep concern that the former Speaker just might ruin it all for the GOP this November. Not just lose the White House, but maybe both the House and Senate. South Carolina sounded an alarm that wakened the sleeping giant. This race will go on for a few more months, but the dye is cast. It’s pretty clear Newt Gingrich will not be allowed to win the Republican nomination.

Mitt’s Really Bad Week: The Moment of Truth

January 19, 2012 2 comments

REUTERS/Brian Snyder


All presidential candidates are tested to the breaking point. Bill Clinton endured adultery accusations just days before the New Hampshire primary. Barack Obama, seemingly cruising after an Iowa victory four years ago, found himself losing to Hillary Clinton the very next week in New Hampshire. Both recovered.

Mitt Romney has had a nightmare of a week heading into Saturday’s South Carolina primary. At Monday’s debate, in addition to the little stuff, like confusing the big game he was hunting in Montana, he also gave one of the world’s longest and meandering and confused responses ever about the release of his tax returns. Maybe in April. If that’s the tradition. He was going to release them eventually sometime. It was quite the exhibit of red-faced tap-dancing. Meantime, Newt Gingrich played the conservative and vocal audience in the debate hall like a Stradivarius.

Then Romney hinted his tax return just might reveal he paid a fairly low 15% tax rate and then basically declared that his $350,000 in annual speaking fees was chump change. Which, of course, it is, compared to his estimated $25 million annual income from investments, but still enough to put him in the top 1% of American wage earners.

He then wakes up Thursday morning to find out he may actually have lost the Iowa caucus to Rick Santorum- trailing in the final but incomplete vote count officially released today. Not sure it’ll help Santorum- but it takes the luster off the Romney camp’s brag about being the first non-incumbent Republican presidential candidate in history to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. He is no longer undefeated.

Meantime, recent polling finds a large erosion in Romney’s South Carolina and national leads. As I write, Rich Perry is getting out of the race and apparently headed toward a Gingrich endorsement.

The only bright spot for Romney is anticipating the possible damage that might be done tonight when ABC News releases an interview conducted with Newt’s ex-wife Marianne on Nightline. Careful what you wish for. A “lame-stream” media interview with a surging conservative candidate’s ex-wife 48 hours before the voting- seems to me to be the perfect storm for a voter backlash against the establishment media- and a potential boon for Newt Gingrich if he plays it right.

Mitt Romney is still formidable. He still has a lot of money and the best and deepest campaign organization. He still has a large lead in the Florida primary set for Tuesday, January 31st. History has shown that politicians in a seeming free fall can correct and conquer.

I’m not in the business of advising presidential candidates on tactics, but Jon Stewart offered Mitt some advice on the Daily Show last night that might be his ultimate answer to surviving this critical juncture in the campaign. That advice: stop pretending not to be rich. Embrace your wealth. Embrace your success story. Lose the pretenses about being middle class and once having worried about getting a “pink slip.” Nobody believes that stuff.

Americans strive to be rich no matter what their circumstance or background. They can respect that. What they pick up on fast is phoniness and a lack of authenticity. He ought to release his tax returns, tell people he did everything lawfully available to him to save on his tax bill, and proclaim himself rich and proud of it. “You know what?” the New Romney might say, “I earned everything I have. Maybe it’s time America had a President who knows how to create a little bit of wealth.”

Why, it’s so crazy, it just might work.

Ok, Romney- What Was It? Moose or Elk?

January 17, 2012 Leave a comment

I am not a hunter but I have seen elk in Montana and I have seen moose in Maine. Yes, they both have antlers but moose are huge. Elk are considerably less so. I am deeply concerned that the potential next leader of the free world can’t recall precisely what it was he was out trying to kill on his most recent hunting trip.

If you missed the moment in the recent Republican presidential debate- it went like this according to the Associated Press:

In Monday night’s Republican debate in South Carolina, the GOP front-runner said he “went moose hunting” in Montana with friends, then quickly corrected himself and said it was, in fact, elk hunting.

But there’s more background on this because Mitt has a kind of tortured history in his public references to hunting and it bears further investigation.

John Kerry goose-hunting in Ohio in 2004

Back in the 2008 race, Romney described himself a “lifelong hunter.” Hunting is apparently a very important skill a future President must possess. I distinctly remember the photo, for example, of John Kerry back in 2004, walking through some field with some Congressman and one of them is holding a deceased goose, one of four they had shot and killed in the key swing state of Ohio. Very manly and 2nd amendment-like, indeed.

But back to Mitt. Pressed on his hunting prowess in April of 2007, to be exact- Romney uttered these famous words:

I’m not a big-game hunter. I’ve always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will. I began when I was 15 or so and I have hunted those kinds of varmints since then.

I can understand hunting those wascally wabbits- but rodents? Absent further elaboration, my mind imagines Romney with a shotgun ridding the servant’s quarters of a pesky mouse problem.

Also, if I were Mitt’s media advisor I would have had him steer away from this phrase in particular: “Small varmints, if you will.” Hunters rarely end sentences with “if you will.” And if that isn’t enough of a dead giveaway- only Elmer Fudd (pictured above) Yosemite Sam has ever referred to game as “varmints.”

I, personally, would never go hunting with Mitt Romney. We know, for example, that former Vice President Dick Cheney is an old hunter from way back- and even he occasionally, accidently, shoots people in the face.

I mean there’s no telling- after Romney has gotten his personal assistant to load and then aim his shotgun- where the shot might actually go. You know those things kick back when you fire ‘em. The bullet could go straight up in the air for all I know and then we’ll all be diving for cover, except Mitt will have his personal assistant draped over him protectively, while I would be lying there totally exposed yelling, “incoming!”

Anyway, back to the differences between moose and elk. Moose kind of stand there and therefore, as stationary targets, make for a less than exciting hunt. Elk, on the other hand, are way more elusive. In Montana, I’m told, you have to climb mountains and invariably end up on scary elevated ledges looming over thousand-foot drops- and then maybe you’d spot an elk. I think most people would remember if they went out to a parking lot and bagged a moose or were barely clinging to life with hands clutching a shaky precipice- and managed to snag an elk.

I’m not insinuating that Romney was lying about going hunting. This could clearly have been a case of mistaken identity. You know, the hot lights, a big audience, national TV. Like being on Jeopardy when you choose the “Things with Antlers” category and get all nervous when the Daily Double comes up and there’s a picture of an elk and damn it all- you say “What is a moose?”

Actually, that may well have been the exact question Romney asked his personal assistant following Monday’s debate.