2012 Tuesday: Events, dear boy, events — and their ability to shape the race

A butterfly sows its oats — er, flaps its wings — in Cartagena, and an incumbent in Washington loses an election?

On it own, the story from Colombia about Secret Service agents hiring prostitutes in Colombia while on an advance trip preparing for President Obama’s recent visit there — a story that has broadened to include perhaps 20 people, including military personnel — is little more than a headache to a president. Quite obviously, he did not direct them to behave in such a way and does not approve of their actions.

But it may be a small example of the external, wholly unpredictable occurrences that cumulatively help to shape an election. As former British Prime Minister Harold McMillan is said to have responded when asked what worried him, it’s “Events, dear boy, events.”

I feel confident in predicting that one Secret Service scandal in Colombia, by itself, will not undermine Obama’s re-election chances. But consider that it comes at the same time as a controversy that does hit a little closer to home for the president: the current brouhaha about the expensive Las Vegas conference staged by employees of the General Services Administration. If that list grows, or if the known scandals grow much broader or deeper or seedier, at some point some voters may conclude their government isn’t being well-run. And that could only be bad news for an incumbent who promised competence in government, and who will be opposed by a managerial businessman-turned-politician in Mitt Romney.

Likewise, Obama can’t control what the Supreme Court decides about his signature health law. But a decision before the election, either way, will have some kind of effect on his success. The upcoming recall election for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, which likely will draw attention and resources from both the national Republican and Democratic parties, could either energize or deflate labor unions or tea partyers depending on how it goes. The Middle East could go from precarious to downright scary in a hurry, from Egypt’s elections to Syria’s civil war to a potential Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. The recent opening salvo from the Taliban in Afghanistan reminds us that country, with thousands of our soldiers still in it, could blow up at any time.

Even more outside the president’s control, but with similar potential to change the course of the election, are a list of contingencies including: gas prices this summer and the broader U.S. economy; the European economy, and specifically the recent jitters about Spanish bonds; and even the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin, and the potential for hard feelings (or more) whether Zimmerman is convicted or acquitted.

I’ve devoted most of this post to potential dangers for the Obama campaign, because I judge the risk from external events to be greatest for the incumbent. But these events could also turn out to hurt Romney’s chances, and it’s not hard to imagine news from left field that could hurt his candidacy — although, unlike the foregoing scenarios that we know to be possibilities, most of the anti-Romney scenarios require an imagination (e.g., some unknown scandal about him emerges, or his to-be-determined running mate embarrasses the campaign).

All of which is just something to keep in mind as we watch the general-election campaign begin. The early opinion polls, for instance, are mostly interesting if they run counter to existing narratives. But there’s a long time to go, and means many events — in and out of the candidates’ control — are yet to pass.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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143 comments Add your comment

Jefferson

April 17th, 2012
11:08 am

Another mess left for the president to clean up.

Junior Samples

April 17th, 2012
11:10 am

I doubt Romney will have a scandal, and I’m sure he’ll will do better research than the last choice for a running mate. But I do believe his off-the-cuff remarks will further distance himself from the average person. Something like “that reminds me of a story that took place at the country club a while back”.

Don't Tread

April 17th, 2012
11:19 am

“at some point some voters may conclude their government isn’t being well-run”

This voter came to that point decades ago.

UGA 1999

April 17th, 2012
11:20 am

ROMNEY ROMNEY ROMNEY

jconservative

April 17th, 2012
11:20 am

Good column Kyle. Good column.

I agree it is events as they unfold.

But just as important is how the candidates and the two parties react to the events. See the September 2008 credit collapse and how the two presidentail candidates responded to it. McCain went from leading in the polls to trailing in the polls in that week. He never recovered.

And also how the sitting president reacted to it; remember the alledged remark by Bush “If money isn’t loosened up, this sucker could go down”.

UGA 1999

April 17th, 2012
11:21 am

Jefferson, tell me what messes your Lord and Savior Obama has cleaned up?

Kyle Wingfield

April 17th, 2012
11:30 am

jconservative: Thanks. And I agree about reactions.

DannyX

April 17th, 2012
11:36 am

This is not even close to one of those events that will shape the race.

The improving economy is one of those things x1000.

If Romney doesn’t improve his image he won’t win. 2 recent polls show big problems for Romney, a Fox News poll that showed by a margin of 42% to 33% Americans view Obama to be smarter than Romney. In an ABC poll only 35% had a favorable impression of Romney, 47% unfavorable.

Romney needs to get a king sized Etch-a-Sketch and start shaking.

Rafe Hollister

April 17th, 2012
11:37 am

Kyle,

You forgot Fast and Furious, which I believe will eventually be shown as an illegal attempt by Eric Holder to push anti gun sentiments to the point they could reign in the Second Amendment. I think this is going to break bad for Barry.

Also if Romney would get together an ad to expose Oblamers immature and adolescent attempt to get the Buffet rule into the conversation for political divisive reasons he would shift opinion to the GOP side. Explain how little money would be raised and how the money would be wasted as usual, with no effect on debt or deficit. Romney then explains his flat, fair, and simpler tax plan to solve these problems.

Oblamer is ripe, now is the time.

Finn McCool (Class Warfare === Stopping Rich People from TAKING MORE of OUR MONEY)

April 17th, 2012
11:37 am

All W’s fault.

Finn McCool (Class Warfare === Stopping Rich People from TAKING MORE of OUR MONEY)

April 17th, 2012
11:38 am

Ya’ll are going to need a MUCH bigger scandal to unseat this guy. Maybe if it had been O with the prostitutes…..

carlosgvv

April 17th, 2012
11:38 am

Kyle, I get the uncomfortable feeling you are very happy about this Secret Service scandal and, even though we don’t know the politics of the agents involved, are broadly hinting this is somehow Obama’s fault. And, before you and the cons here bother to deny it, your “voters may conclude their Government isn’t being well-run” statment speaks for itself.

UGA 1999

April 17th, 2012
11:40 am

Carlos…it is Obama’s fault. What you do you feel is his fault? What you do feel he has done wrong?

Finn McCool (Class Warfare === Stopping Rich People from TAKING MORE of OUR MONEY)

April 17th, 2012
11:40 am

Romney needs to get a king sized Etch-a-Sketch and start shaking.

hehehehe, good one.

UGA 1999

April 17th, 2012
11:41 am

Drug testing for welfare….great job boys!

UGA 1999

April 17th, 2012
11:41 am

Finn….With Obama’s face on it.

Kyle Wingfield

April 17th, 2012
11:42 am

I write: The Secret Service scandal is an example of an “external, wholly unpredictable occurrence” and, “Quite obviously, he did not direct them to behave in such a way and does not approve of their actions.”

carlosgvv concludes: I am “broadly hinting this is somehow Obama’s fault.”

Wow. Just wow.

Dusty

April 17th, 2012
11:45 am

Kyle, aren’t you full of good news today!!! Nobody singing “Happy days are here again!”

I was just reading about the General Services Administartion party in 2010 that cost taxpayers $823,000 for a “raucous, extravagent, arrogant, self congratualatory” party as described by one investigator. Then, while the guy that planned the “conference” was being investigated, the head of GSA gave him a bonus of nine thousand dollars. What a mess! It’s on AJC home page today.

Yep, just one “event” after another. But I wonder if voters are even paying attention. They hear so much they just get “turned off”. How much is too much?

UGA 1999

April 17th, 2012
11:46 am

Dusty….November cannot get here soon enough.

Kyle Wingfield

April 17th, 2012
11:46 am

DannyX: And yet…Romney is leading Obama in three of the five polls taken in the past week.

Those poll results, like the ones you cited, are highly subject to change. Like I said, it’s early. The polls are useful mostly for telling us which narratives (from the campaigns, the media, whomever) are not standing up to public scrutiny. But even that has limited value, given how little attention most people will pay to the election between now and the conventions.

JDW

April 17th, 2012
11:46 am

@Kyle…this one seems a bit like grasping for straws or wishful thinking in the face of current reality and a nine point Romney deficit.

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/16/cnn-poll-gender-gap-and-likeability-keep-obama-over-romney/

Kyle Wingfield

April 17th, 2012
11:50 am

JDW: Like I told DannyX, three of the five in the past week have Romney on top, including the only one that surveyed likely voters (universally acknowledged as the best measure) and the polls with the largest sample sizes. Take a look for yourself.

But like I also told DannyX: None of these polls, regardless of who’s leading them, mean much at this point. To equate them to “reality” is much more akin to “grasping for straws.”

Kyle Wingfield

April 17th, 2012
11:50 am

Or do you truly believe none of what I described in the OP will have an effect on the election?

UGA 1999

April 17th, 2012
11:54 am

Romey ahead in the polls. I cannot wait until the debates. Make Obama answer for all of his choices he has made in the past 4 years.

Finn McCool (Class Warfare === Stopping Rich People from TAKING MORE of OUR MONEY)

April 17th, 2012
11:55 am

Romney also argues that our personal freedom is under assault, and cites the Affordable Care Act, of course. Here is a small story not widely enough known: Mary Brown, who went to court to challenge the bill and whose name was on the litigation that made it all the way to the Supreme Court, claimed at the time she filed the suit, through her attorneys, that she “doesn’t have insurance. She doesn’t want to pay for it. And she doesn’t want the government to tell her she has to have it.” Mary Brown and her husband went bankrupt, leaving behind many debts, including $4,500 in medical bills. She will not pay those bills, but we taxpayers will.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_best_policy/2012/04/romney_s_nra_speech_his_narrow_selfish_scary_definition_of_freedom_.html

DannyX

April 17th, 2012
12:02 pm

“DannyX: And yet…Romney is leading Obama in three of the five polls taken in the past week.”

Romney is leading in a Gallup tracking poll and 2 partisan polls. We are a very divided country right now so the focus should be on swing states, not popular vote. Real Clear politics has Obama up 227-170 in their current electoral map. On top of that Obama is ahead in 9 of 11 swing states according to RCP. You are right it is early, but Romney needs to do some serious work on his image problem. Yes there will be the expected bashing of Obama but that will not be enough for Romney.

Image problem + improving economy are Romney’s biggest problems at the moment.

JDW

April 17th, 2012
12:06 pm

@Kyle, neither Rasmussen nor Fox has much creditability until just before an election when they suddenly “shift” from Republican bias to reality (see 2008).

http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~gelman/stuff_for_blog/Evidence%20of%20Systematic%20Bias%20in%202008%20Presidential%20Polling%20(1).pdf

All that aside…the most reliable predictor has been Intrade where Obama’s reelection odds are currently pegged at 62%.

carlosgvv

April 17th, 2012
12:09 pm

UGA 1999

How is it Obama’s fault if some Secret Service agents mis-behave? As for what is his fault, he has not been nearly as aggressive with the Republicans as he should have been.

carlosgvv

April 17th, 2012
12:12 pm

Kyle – 11:42

You did say Obama is not responsible for their actions.However, the tone of this essay does more than broadly hint you hope the public holds him accountable. I can read between the lines, Kyle, and so can many others who post here.

Finn McCool (Class Warfare === Stopping Rich People from TAKING MORE of OUR MONEY)

April 17th, 2012
12:12 pm

Frequenting prostitutes in a country where it is legal is misbehaving?

In Columbia it’s legal in designated areas. Like in High School where there were designated smoking areas.

“Hey, where is the smoking area?”
“Over by the Prostitution Area.”

Dusty

April 17th, 2012
12:13 pm

UGA 1999 “November can’t come soon enough!”.

I know what you mean.

In the meantime: will the Supreme Court ever give us a verdict on ObamaCare?

Will investigators ever complete their investigations of sleazy government actions?

Will we keep saying after the presidential election ” Obama did it!”?

Will Buffet ever be straight forward about his taxes?

Will DannyX ever give up his favorite playtoy Etch-a-Sketch?

Finn McCool (Class Warfare === Stopping Rich People from TAKING MORE of OUR MONEY)

April 17th, 2012
12:14 pm

I think what Kyle is hinting at is that a single event can have unforeseen consequences – and especially in an election year. Things like an improving economy, gas prices starting to come down, etc.

Kyle Wingfield

April 17th, 2012
12:21 pm

I didn’t think I was “hinting at” it, Finn, but yes — that’s the point.

But at 12:12, you ignore that it was against Secret Service policy. That’s why it’s misbehaving.

tiredofIT

April 17th, 2012
12:22 pm

If it’s Obama’s fault that some Secret Service agents mis-behaved, then I guess Bush is responsible for torture in Iraq.

Dusty

April 17th, 2012
12:22 pm

Carlos & Finn.

Taking sides with the prostitutes?

Obama has nothing to do with the personal morals of Secret Service? True, but it is under his administration.

You blamed everything from chicken scratch to cloudbursts on George W. Bush. But you want to treat Obama like he is the man on the mountain who cannot do wrong.

Your double standard is so glaring that it blinds us. If “Bush did it” then “Obama is doing it!” Give up the old ;propaganda binge. You have done it too long.

UGA 1999

April 17th, 2012
12:23 pm

Carlos….Are you kidding me? Not as aggressive with the Repubs as you think he should be? What has he done that is bi-partisan? NOTHING. He is the most divisive president we have ever had.

UGA 1999

April 17th, 2012
12:24 pm

Dusty, the Obamacare decision probably will not come until June or July.

DannyX

April 17th, 2012
12:30 pm

These attacks on Obama will fail. Romney needs to get aggressive and start communicating his successes, like his socialist, mandating Romneycare.

“”"Massachusetts residents who participate in the state’s healthcare program are seeing their insurance premiums going down by 5 percent, officials say.

Massachusetts has the highest level of healthcare coverage in the country with more than 98 percent of its residents having healthcare insurance…

The combined saving of last year and this year will save the state approximately $91 million with no benefit reductions or member co-pay increases.”"”

http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2012/04/14/Mass-healthcare-premiums-down-5/UPI-83201334422081/#ixzz1sJdoHW7w

UGA 1999

April 17th, 2012
12:32 pm

DannyX….What attacks on Obama. All we are doing is pointing out his record. You know what everyone (both sides) should do to any president. Why do you have such a hard time with the facts?

tiredofIT

April 17th, 2012
12:32 pm

Gwinnett county mandated that I pay for waste pickup, and this in a RED county.

Rafe Hollister

April 17th, 2012
12:36 pm

Beating Oblamer is like hitting a Chad Durbin fastball, not hard, but you have to make up your mind you are going to swing the bat. Walks don’t getter done.

Dusty

April 17th, 2012
12:40 pm

DannyX

How nice of you to promote Massachusetts healthcare. If every state could make its own decisions about healthcare we would not need a federal boondoggle with it legal challenges and exceptions for a few.

Are you planning to move to Massachusetts to get that 5% off your medical insurance? Have fun.

Rafe Hollister

April 17th, 2012
12:42 pm

From Boston.com
Massachusetts has the most expensive family health insurance premiums in the country, according to a new analysis that highlights the state’s challenge in trying to rein in medical costs after passage of a landmark 2006 law that mandated coverage for nearly everyone.

DannyX, you are so easy. Of course the rates are falling, they have pushed them about as high as they can.

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

April 17th, 2012
12:45 pm

“2 recent polls show big problems for Romney, a Fox News poll that showed by a margin of 42% to 33% Americans view Obama to be smarter than Romney. In an ABC poll only 35% had a favorable impression of Romney, 47% unfavorable.”

And despite those meaningless numbers you continue to cite, DannyX Romney leads Obama in both the most recent Fox News poll (denounced by David Axelrod) and the latest Gallup poll by the same margin.

And if the economy is so important to Americans (which it is – thanks for finally admitting that) Romney beats Obama in EVERY poll on that issue.

UGA 1999

April 17th, 2012
12:48 pm

Tiberius….Sorry but being “smarter” does not mean you are a good leader or president. If that was the case Bill Gates should run for office.

Right now Americans 47% of Americans disapprove of Obama’s performance. Those are the numbers that you should worrying about.

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

April 17th, 2012
12:48 pm

“However, the tone of this essay does more than broadly hint you hope the public holds him accountable.”

Wow, Carlos, a conservative columnist hoping that a liberal failure is potentially harmed in his election prospects. :roll:

I know I’m shocked . . .

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

April 17th, 2012
12:50 pm

UGA, please read my post before responding to it. Thanks in advance.

Hint: I was responding to DannyX’s nonsense.

UGA 1999

April 17th, 2012
12:50 pm

Tiberius….I know we are on the same side.

Joe The Plumber Too

April 17th, 2012
12:51 pm

carlos, why the chip on your shoulder day after day? You think you have problems, try being a black conservative, talk about eating alone at family reunions, theres always plenty of seats at my table….(insert laugh track here)

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

April 17th, 2012
12:51 pm

“As for what is his fault, he has not been nearly as aggressive with the Republicans as he should have been.”

Yeah, ’cause calling Republicans his “enemies” is just his way of being warm and fuzzy . . . ;)