With the presidential election fast approaching, and Mitt Romney's path to victory narrowing, Republican operatives are preparing to release what they hope will be "a bombshell" to make President Obama look weak on terrorism, says Craig Unger at Salon. The plan is to cite intelligence information to argue that President Obama had a credible warning ahead of the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi — which killed Libya Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans last month — but dropped the ball. They're calling it "the Jimmy Carter Strategy" — likening it to Carter's failed attempt to rescue U.S. hostages from Iran in 1980 — "or the October Surprise." Of course, campaign strategists always seem to be speculating about some last-minute shocker that could flip an election. (Read Mother Jones' excellent history of October surprises here.) But how often does that really happen? Here, three reasons why an October surprise is unlikely to decide the 2012 race:
1. The Obama-as-Carter argument is lame
It's absurd to paint "the recent mess in Libya as Obama's equivalent of Carter's helicopter crash" in Iran, says Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast. The so-called Benghazi-gate was nothing more than a few days of conflicting accounts on whether the attack was the handiwork of local extremists or al Qaeda masterminds. That's hardly enough to "reconjure" the dynamics of Ronald Reagan's 1980 victory over Carter. Besides, nobody outside the Fox-News-addicted "wingnutosphere" is going to be impressed with the "Benghazi Truther approach," says Ed Kilgore at Washington Monthly, and those voters are already on Romney's side.
2. October surprises rarely work
If you look at the history of so-called October surprises, says Jonathan Bernstein at The Washington Post, you'll find that they almost never work. "Voters are so cynical" that most dismiss these political Hail-Mary passes as desperate campaign tactics. And in the end, "October surprises are unlikely to matter to the outcome in November for exactly the same reasons that the debates are unlikely to matter." By now, "most people have made up their minds."
3. Both sides are playing it way too safe
Don't count on any "race-changing unexpected development" from either of these campaigns, says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. "A real surprise, in my book, would be something like" a serious "tax reform or Medicare reform proposal" from Obama, or for Romney to explain his own Medicare plan. It would be an October surprise if we could get "a substantive debate on the size of government." But the sad truth is, that's probably too much to hope for.