He who laughs last wins the election.
No one has done a study of this (thank God!) but it seems over the years that he who is the consistent butt of comedy loses the presidential race. People don't want a ridiculous president. George W had to steal Ohio in order to scrape by in 2004 after being raked over by the comics. John Kerry helped GW by making himself more ridiculous than Georgie, which is an amazing achievement. Wind-surfing in late middle-age? Holding dead birds while parading in an obviously brand-new camouflage get-up? War-hero Kerry became late night nonsense.
Look beyond the polls. Look at late night TV. Especially at the old-time "main stream" comedians like Letterman. I usually don't because I prefer Jon Stewart, but we know where Stewart is coming from so he doesn't actually count. He's preaching to the choir. Letterman and Leno, by contrast, go where they know the greater number of people are: the people who don't follow issues closely but vote the candidate they "like" best. These are the folks who decide elections. And they don't want a ridiculous candidate being president.
Get on the wrong side of Letterman and you are toast. Remember John McCain standing him up as a guest in 2008? That spelled the end of McCain. Hell hath no fury like a TV host scorned! And Letterman is a gold medal winner in fury. Lose Letterman and you've lost the race.
Yes, Tina Fey doomed Sarah Palin in 2008. Wasn't that great fun? But Palin helped her a lot by being outstandingly stupid and nutsy.
Letterman works the edges a lot better. He can reveal the superficially dignified for what they really are. That's been the role of the court jester forever. How about his depiction of Mitt Romney as the "closer" at a Mercedes dealership? The phoney camarderie, the awkward gestures. Perfect!
And which comic called Romney and Ryan a "pair of dentists"? Right on target!
More to the point, the comics make it obvious that they despise these GOP jerks. (Or Democratic jerks when such are running.) The television audiences love their comics and despise whom their beloveds despise. Cowboy-comic Will Rogers knew this eighty years ago when he belittled Congress in his devastatingly gentle way over the radio. Congress still hasn't recovered.
Obama is simply not comedy fodder. He's cool. He's got a terrific public persona. Dignified, at ease, moves well, great smile. He can sing, sink a basket, and make sense. He's also killed a major bad guy. In 2008 the folks at SNL complained that it was hard to parody Obama. Oh, yeah! It's hard to parody a gem.
And Obama can get a laugh right alongside those comics. He's got an incredible sense of comic timing, very rare in a non-pro. They pros admire him for that. Only they know how tough it is to achieve good comic timing. And he did one of his best routines - scorching Donald Trump at the White House Press dinner - while simultaneously killing Bin Laden. Man, that is show biz beyond the beyond!
So this next week when the highest-paid operatives in stagecraft will be trying to produce a "new" Romney at the GOP convention, don't fret. Maybe they'll succeed and maybe they won't. But will they fool all of the comedians all of the time? Probably not. Romney is an absolute jerk and great material. Comics and their writers are not about to let go of that, especially when they know the real Romney. Truth is what makes comedy funny.
As the GOP convenes, it has a lot more to worry about than Hurricane Isaac. The winds of comedic truth are more powerful than the fiercest hurricane.
Go get him, Letterman!
And while you're at it, Dave, get those Romney tax returns too.
Come on, Mitt! Hand them over!