Last Friday I asked readers if foreign policy was going to matter in the race, and if so, who would benefit.
There were those who think it won’t matter. DonaldELJohnson writes, in part: “At this point in time, I’m not sure Americans much care about what’s happening in the Middle East or how [President] Obama and [Mitt] Romney are dealing with the crisis. And I’m very doubtful that this crisis of the week will be much more important than all of those that have preceded it over the last six months.”WillMay agrees: “Foreign Policy is the fourth leg on a three-legged stool; this election will be about Jobs, Jobs and Jobs.” Haunches thinks the media will move on:
Foreign policy will probably not become an issue unless the situation spins out of control even more, meaning more American deaths. The press will never allow it to emerge because it has become obvious during this crisis that Obama has no idea what he is doing. The fact that the State Department needs to correct the President on who is and is not an ally speaks volumes about his incompetence. We are better served by him continuing to golf and fundraise and leave the serious business to adults.
There were those who think it favors the president. Postpat writes, “Foreign policy will be a momentary issue — lasting only as long as voters ask themselves who they want answering the red phone at 3 am. It’s not Romney, I guarantee you.” Merecadans argues: “Foreign policy will not be a major issue unless there is some crisis. In the case of a crisis, any political benefit I’ll accrue to Obama, if for no other reason but the American people do not like to ‘change horses in mid-stream.’ See FDR reelection in 1944.” And Rusto1 agrees: “Despite this week’s flare-up in the Middle East, foreign policy will recede again as an issue. For Mitt Romney, the damage is done. He flubbed another, and perhaps his last, real-time opportunity to appear presidential and competent.”
And there were those who figure Romney will have the upper hand. Ndc1963 writes: “The conventional wisdom that the Democrats have the foreign policy edge is flawed because America is weaker. Obama has made his view clear that American leadership is harmful. The claim that Obama has made us more secure is false.” Eddiehaskell argues, “The president sets foreign policy; that should be his main job. The meltdown in the Middle East will again bring foreign policy to the forefront of this election, at least temporarily. As soon as it tamps down, if it does, the mainstream media will drop it as it is a losing argument for Obama and his narrative.”
Given the weekend and holiday, we now have some hindsight to assess what impact the foreign policy crisis has had on the race. The answer, to the chagrin of each side convinced it has the upper hand, is: not much, at least in isolation.
The convention bounce has faded. Romney is back talking about the economy and the press is busy obsessing about remarks Romney made to donors.
Foreign policy will become critical, it seems, if Romney can use it in an overarching argument about Obama’s lack of leadership. Events (downgrades, embassy attacks) are buffeting the United States. Under Obama we are not controlling our own destiny.
One might conclude from the last few weeks that virtually nothing the press thinks is important really is. Supposed gaffes don’t really alter the race, and neither does press obsession about internal debates in the Romney camp. The race is deadlocked. And Romney, if he is going to put himself over the top, will need to firmly and aggressively make the case that Obama hasn’t led, bad things ensued and he will do things differently. The rest, quite honestly, is noise.