By the time this column is published, we will already know how the election has turned out (or there will be a lot of very tired people who gave up on Ohio’s ability to tabulate ballots at around 4 a.m.). Since I won’t be able to write this column after the election’s been called, I’m going to do a bit of a pre-postmortem on the 2012 campaign. So, without further ado, here are the top five most important moments in the presidential election, as determined in a completely nonrigorous manner by a carefully selected committee of one (me).
Honorable mention: The Paul Ryan pick. While not as defining (and definitely not as damning) as McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin as a running mate, the pick of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) signaled an appeal to the conservative wing of the GOP, which had remained largely skeptical of Romney’s conservative credentials. However, evidence the pick caused any real movement in either direction is lacking. Perhaps by the time you’re reading this we’ll be able to say more on Ryan’s effect. It’s also possible that in some multiple of four years Ryan could be the Republican candidate for president, in which case his selection for vice president would be viewed as a launching point for the rest of his career. Likewise, if Ryan’s career declines from here on out, his candidacy could mark the beginning of the end of his political career. For now, though, it doesn’t quite crack the top five.
First: Rick Perry’s “Oops” moment. For those of you whose memories of the Republican primary are (blessedly) foggy, I’ll remind you what happened. In the midst of a debate, Texas Gov. Perry attempted to name three of the federal agencies that would get the axe if he were elected president. Unfortunately for Gov. Perry, this task proved too formidable for him and, after a cringe-inducing 30 or so seconds of searching for the third agency, Perry shrugged his shoulders and muttered the now-immortal “oops.” While certainly one of the more entertaining moments of the election, the reason that “oops” proved so crucial to the election as a whole is it was a damning moment for Perry’s candidacy, leaving former Massachusetts Gov. Romney the strongest candidate. While there were other candidates, most objective observers figured Romney, Perry and possibly Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum were the only “electable” ones. With the fall of Perry, Romney moved significantly closer to the nomination.
Second: Hurricane Sandy. We were waiting for an “October Surprise,” and it came in the form of a massive hurricane on the East Coast. If Romney loses (or more accurately, I suppose, lost), pundits will surely place some blame for that loss on Sandy. And they wouldn’t be completely incorrect. In a fairly close race, an opportunity for a president to be presidential could provide a boost in popularity. After all, nothing rallies people behind a president like a natural disaster. However, polls don’t necessarily show a clear movement toward Obama after the hurricane. Regardless, staunchly conservative New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s praise of Obama’s handling of the situation raised questions about his support of Romney, which, if nothing else, kept the public focused on things besides Romney’s message.
Third: The Republican National Convention. Conventions are usually an opportunity for candidates to put their best foot forward in front of a national audience. Since the campaigns and their respective parties control essentially every aspect of their conventions, they’re usually a zero-risk, high-reward occasion. In fact, candidates usually receive what’s called a “convention bounce” in the polls, even if it doesn’t last for long. In Romney’s case, the convention could have helped jump-start a campaign that had felt mostly stagnant through the summer. However, by (apparently) not vetting Clint Eastwood’s “speech,” and by “speech” I mean argument with an empty chair, the Romney campaign turned what should have been a pep-rally into a gaffe on the national stage.
Fourth: The first debate. Before the first presidential debate, things were looking pretty promising for President Obama. His reelection was by no means a sure thing, but Democrats were feeling quite a bit better than Republicans. In front of tens of millions of television viewers, Obama gave an extremely uninspiring debate performance that resulted in a consensus debate victory for Romney. Suddenly, Romney was bouncing back into contention in the polls. While it’s impossible to answer “what-if,” it’s possible, without his dominating performance, Romney may never have come back in the polls and the election would never have been seriously contested.
And last: The 47%. Romney’s comment, caught on hidden camera at a closed-door fundraiser, that “there are 47 percent who are with [Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it,” proved to be rather controversial. Regardless of how you feel about the statement itself, it was the culmination of a string of unforced errors by the Romney camp that kept the narrative of Romney’s gaffes alive and resulted in a media frenzy that kept the public’s focus off issues Romney would have preferred to discuss.
Joe Timmerman ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in math and economics.