That can be the only possible outcome, because the Republican Party is in such a muddle. Let's look at the messages that have emerged from this convention, and try to make sense of them.
The convention kicked off day one with a theme — "WE BUILT IT" — that presumed to dispute President Obama's earlier statements about entrepreneurship. Obama had said that no entrepreneur can be considered responsible for all of his success. An entrepreneur relies on a whole set of people and conditions — from teachers to bankers, highways to computers — to become successful.
Frankly, I wasn't too crazy about Obama's statements, and his words were probably ill-considered. If the guy has a weak spot, it's a lack of appreciation for entrepreneurship. But for the life of me, I thought the "We Built It" phrase for the Republican convention was such a bizarre, narrow and unmemorable tagline.
With whom would "We Built It" resonate? A majority of Americans? Who would leave the convention with that phrase on the tip of their tongue? Who would even, upon hearing it, understand immediately what it meant? And even to the 2 percent of cable news nut jobs who got the joke and understood what it referred to, was there a broader and deeper meaning to it, which is the purpose of tagline? Is this the kind of tagline that would capture the Republican Party's appreciation for American exceptionalism, self-reliance, life and liberty and freedom?
WE BUILT IT.
Who's we? What did we build? And why? And one other thing — if we "built" it (past tense), are we no longer building it? Now? Or in the future?
Also: if we built it, are we saying the other guys did not build it? Or if they did, did they build it wrongly? And if we are making a point to say that we built this by ourselves, without anybody's help, is it a winning message to say we are a nation of loner-innovators for whom teamwork is anathema? In fact, isn't the winning message, the message that gets a majority of the votes, a message of rewarding not just one or two people who do well, but entire neighborhoods, companies, towns, cities and states?
But look some more. The problems don't stop there.
This tagline doesn't exist in isolation. There are any number of other messages competing for air time at this convention. The head swoons every time a talking head asks a guest, "What do you think, Jane, that the Romney campaign is trying to accomplish here tonight?" The answers flit about, numerously, like swamp mosquitoes birthing in a puddle.
Last time I listened in, the messages competing for attention were:
• Mitt Romney is a person, not a robot, and is a wonderful husband and father.
• It's the economy stupid, and Mitt Romney the Manager can land the plane.
• Mitt Romney is not a flip-flopper: He really is conservative.
• Relax everyone, Paul Ryan is here now, so we have a plan.
• More on the plan: Republicans are more conservative than ever, on issues like Medicare and abortion. But Americans like being told the truth, and this conservatism is the truth, so we're giving it to them, but they may not like it.
• Mitt Romney is rich, but get your head on — in America that's a plus.
• Ann Romney rocks in red.
No real message emerges from this convention. Actually, strike that — many messages emerge, pulling, pushing, jerking one's attention about in a million different directions, and in the end signifying a restless discourse lacking in common authorship. It's a pick-and-choose convention, sort of the worst of messaging in the Internet-age.
The charge was that we never knew who Romney was before the convention. It was the convention's job to put meat on the candidate's bones and explain him to the nation. So far, the mission remains unaccomplished. But I don't think you can necessarily blame Romney for that.
History may ultimately show that the Republicans, while hungry and ambitious, fell prey to sharply competing visions and a stridency of expression that made consensus all but impossible. Given the choice of victory in November or purity of soul, they chose the latter.
Advantage: Democrats. For now, at least.