Way back when President Obama was “likable” and Mitt Romney wasn’t and the media were delighted to harp on the topic, Republicans would acknowledge, “Yup, he has a rotten record, but the voters sure do like him.” They’d then shake their heads and express amazement. “Why do they like him?”

Republicans, by and large, never did. They saw in Obama the intellectual lightweight of the sort they saw in school, the fellow who thought himself the smartest guy in the room and wasn’t particularly nice or kind or even funny. This was the guy who told Hillary Clinton she was “likable enough.” Well before the election they saw a guy who didn’t miss a beat in his prepared remarks, nor shed a tear when the Fort Hood massacre occurred. This was the fellow who labeled opponents as evil or dumb, and either way, he told us, ready to put party over country. Republicans got why voters liked Bill Clinton; heck, many of them liked Clinton, but they never understood why the remote, condescending president would be liked by ordinary voters.

The mistake was in assuming the American people knew him like they did. Like a sulky teenager at Grandma’s house, Obama managed to put a smile on his face and make small talk when the voters were looking. Americans really wanted to like him, really wanted to feel good about their 2008 choice. Then came the debates and Obama’s petty, angry reaction that followed. Oops, the mask slipped.

Why was he rudely not making eye contact in Denver? Why was his VP being so obnoxious when that nice, young man was trying to explain all about taxes? With each debate Obama’s nice-guy persona melted until there was nothing left of it. Now the sullen teen didn’t care to be on his best behavior. He sneered and insulted, leaving the big things about the country to harp on the small and petty things about his nemesis. It began with trivial things (Big Bird), moved on to personal jabs (“binders full of women,” “Romnesia”) and wound up with vulgarities (“bull*****r”) and the disgusting insinuation that his opponents didn’t understand that “rape is rape.” Who was this guy?

Welcome to our world, the Republicans muse. The irony is that not only was Mitt Romney, upon further inspection, plenty likable, but Obama showed himself not to be likable, let alone admirable.

Obama is scrambling to try to turn out his base, understanding that amid the insults, sneers and pettiness he lost a great deal of the moderate middle of the electorate, especially women. The catch here is that he’s done nothing to inspire them either. This may be one of those exceptions to the “nice guys finish last” rule. Romney hopes that, in the end, voters find Obama not likable enough.