Let me begin with a prediction: Mitt Romney will be the next president of the United States.
Why? Because I cannot believe the people of the United States will re-elect a sitting president who has spent so much of their money to achieve so little visible result.
But polls are showing it's close, very close, and that Romney starts the fourth quarter slightly behind or dead even with a failed president.
The conventional wisdom is that social issues are the problem for the GOP coalition, but the truth is the conservative movement's bigger problem is that Americans are not nearly as libertarian as our party elites. Hence, the poor analyses of the political problems Romney faces.
What are Romney's fumbles?
The first was his convention speech. Romney's is the first speech in the history of conventions that mustered approval of less than half of Americans, according to Gallup. Just 38 percent called Romney's speech "good" or "excellent"; 10 percent said it was terrible. The rest were simply unmoved, apparently.
Why didn't Americans like the speech? Too much bio-fluff, too much blame -- and too little coherent case for how electing Romney president will get the economy moving.
When the most memorable line from a convention speech involves the daily red rose your long-dead mom received from your even-longer-dead dad, you've fumbled it.
The second Romney fumble was his blatantly hair-trigger political reaction to the murder of an American ambassador in Libya. Romney managed to make the first words out of his mouth as the jihadists attacked and killed a U.S. ambassador a criticism of the president of the United States.
Memo to Romney campaign: In the middle of a firefight, Americans want our ammo aimed at the actual enemy, not a circular firefight.
He should have said, "My message to these immoral killers is: Americans stand as one against your futile and ugly hate," and left the critique of foreign policy until after the ambassador's body was buried.
Romney's third fumble was the Romney campaign's decision to defend his stray comment about the "47 percent" -- to own it, to make it a campaign theme on the grounds it is technically "true."
Memo to Romney campaign: Old people who've worked hard and paid taxes all their lives do not like being lumped with welfare moms as "moochers."
By doing so, Team Romney exacerbated what appears to be a growing liability on the Medicare issue. In a New York Times/CBS poll, more than 75 percent of voters favor keeping Medicare the way it is.
A Times poll in the swing states of Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin found that about six in 10 voters say keep Medicare the way it is, and three-quarters of the likely voters in each of these states said Medicare is worth what it costs taxpayers. The Washington Post reports that in the key swing state of Virginia, Obama has opened up a commanding 13-point lead among likely voters on the question of who they "trust to do a better job determining the future of the Medicare program."
We've learned in the last few weeks what we already knew: Romney is a weak candidate. But it's not Romney alone: Conservative elites appear unaware of how thin the ice is around making Medicare "reform" a top issue.
Older voters are the fastest-growing demographic in America. They are natural GOP voters for traditional values -- unless you appear inordinately eager to reform the most popular social program in America.
If Romney doesn't rise to the top of his game, he may not be president.
It's the fourth quarter, but Romney's fumbles are keeping the game close.
Only it's not a game. The future of the United States of America is at stake.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.
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