"Saturday Night Live" opened its new season with a sketch in which President Obama acknowledges that "things aren't great, the economy's in the tank" and "the job market is horrible," but says he's not worried because his campaign has a "secret weapon" to guarantee a win. Cut to: Mitt Romney.
When satirists think that the idea that your campaign is tanking has been sufficiently internalized to use it as a premise, you know you're in trouble. The question is: Why? As the AP's Kasie Hunt wrote in a piece about the dissatisfaction at this past weekend's Values Voter Summit, "Republican activists are incredulous: Why can't Republican Mitt Romney seem to break open a tight race with President Barack Obama given the nation's sluggish economy and conservative enthusiasm to beat the Democrat?"
Why, indeed? As SNL's President Obama said, things aren't great. Unemployment is still over 8 percent. There are still over 20 million people unemployed or underemployed. And, yet, in four major polls, the real President Obama has moved into a tie with Romney over the question of who would handle the economy better. And The New York Times' Nate Silver has Obama at a 75 percent chance of winning.
So what's the reason for Romney's problems? His campaign includes plenty of seasoned professionals. And the answer certainly isn't the lack of money. Between the campaign, the RNC, and outside super PACs, Romney supporters have raised over half a billion dollars. Some conservatives are already grumbling about "media bias," but that's not the answer, either -- whatever the personal leanings of those in the mainstream media, what they love above all else is changing the narrative. The media would love nothing more than to flip the narrative and have a week or two of "Obama has been ahead, but watch out -- here comes Romney!" stories. Who knows, it might still happen, but the Romney campaign isn't giving them a lot to work with.
So if it's not about external conditions or money or talent, then it must be about poor decision-making.
What is behind all these bad decisions? Here's my theory: not enough sleep. And I have evidence (at least one piece)! While I was at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, a well-sourced journalist told me that senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom sleeps only three or four hours with his devices beside him, then wakes and checks his email, sends out replies, and then gets another hour of sleep. Or not. If Fehrnstrom's habits are at all indicative of the Romney campaign operation at large, then voila -- mystery solved!
Fehrnstrom, you might recall, was the Romney adviser who in March said that it would be easy for the campaign to switch gears from the primary battle because they would just "hit a reset button . . . almost like an Etch A Sketch." Why would a senior campaign member say something like that? Maybe because instead of hitting the reset button, he needs to hit the off button on his phones and computers and get some more restorative sleep, leading to more clarity and better judgment.
Just last week, a study was published by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute which showed that the light from self-luminous "backlit" displays interfered with the body's melatonin production, which helps govern our internal body clock and regulates our sleep cycle.
And, as I've pointed out before, sleep plays a vital role in decision making. According to the Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine, lack of sleep was a "significant factor" or played a "critical role" in the nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the wrecking of the Exxon Valdez and the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle.
"Sleep deprivation negatively impacts our mood, our ability to focus, and our ability to access higher-level cognitive functions," say Harvard's sleep doctors. "The combination of these factors is what we generally refer to as mental performance."
So, adding up the clues, it seems the culprit in the killing of Romney's chances just might be mind numbing sleep deprivation among senior campaign advisors.
Am I saying he would be beating Obama if his staffers just got more sleep? No, but at this point it can't hurt. Half a billion dollars is great, but "higher-level cognitive functions" and "mental performance" are even greater.
Arianna Huffington is president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.(c) 2012 Arianna Huffington. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.