Gaffes spoken in haste on the campaign trail can fade. But an inaccurate statement, geared for political advantage at a time of national crisis, could have a longer impact on the presidential race.
Will Mitt Romney’s comments on the Middle East matter to voters when they go to the polls on Nov. 6? That’s a question roiling the US political world in the wake of the tragic killing of the US ambassador to Libya and continued riots outside American embassies in the region.
Democrats say Mr. Romney has hurt himself with hasty and inaccurate remarks about a situation he doesn’t appear to understand. Republicans reply that their standard-bearer is forcefully highlighting the fecklessness of President Obama’s foreign policy.
Our view is this: This uproar probably won’t make any more difference in the end than previous media obsessions over shiny baubles such as Romney’s (nonpublic) tax returns. Except ... foreign policy is a serious matter. In that sense, the electoral outcome of this incident is less predictable than that of purely domestic flaps.
As the estimable University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato notes, it’s still seven weeks until Nov. 6, which is plenty of time for this to disappear completely from voters’ minds. But what if the crisis deepens? On Thursday, riots spread to Yemen. In that context, it is possible that a rally-around-the-flag effect will help Mr. Obama. It is also possible that the situation will appear to spin out of the incumbent’s control, giving an advantage to Romney.
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