President Obama and Mitt Romney have changed their scheduled events today. The president addressed the Colorado shooting tragedy this morning, saying It's a chance to put divisive rhetoric aside and try to bring the nation together. Romney also addressed the theater shooting.
The horrific shootings in Colorado probably won’t have any long-term impact on the presidential race.
But in the short term, it’s likely to impose a temporary “truce” on a campaign that had become strikingly nasty.
“I know many of you came here today for a campaign event,” the president said. “But this morning we woke up to news of a tragedy that reminds us of all the ways we that are united as one American family.”
Calling it "a day for prayer and reflection," the president said: "If there's anything to take away from this tragedy, it's the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things. It's not the trivial things which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it's how we choose to treat one another, and how we love one another."
“Our hearts break with the sadness of this unspeakable tragedy,” he said. “I stand before you today not as a man running for office, but as a father and grandfather, a husband and American. This is a time for each of us to look into our hearts and remember how much we love one another. And how much we love and how much we care for our great country. There’s so much love and goodness in the heart of America.”
Both the president and Mr. Romney also issued written statements earlier Friday morning, offering prayers for the victims and emphasizing that the perpetrator must be brought to justice.
The next few days could be a critical moment for the president in particular: a chance to show leadership and bring the nation together, at a time when the public is looking for a sense of solace and resolve. In the past, national tragedies have often resulted in some of history’s most memorable presidential touchstones. Ronald Reagan’s speech after the space shuttle Challenger blew up was one of the most powerful moments of his presidency. Bill Clinton’s remarks in the following the Oklahoma City bombing were seen by many as a turning point for his presidency, setting the stage for his political comeback after his party’s humiliating midterm election losses.
On the other hand, Obama has arguably already had one of these moments: The January, 2011, shooting of former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in which six people were killed and fourteen wounded.
Speaking of the death of nine year-old Christina Taylor Green at the memorial, Obama memorably said “I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it.” He also urged a better kind of political discourse: "At a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do,'' Obama said, "it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds."
While Obama's remarks were well-received in general, and the nation did see a brief toning down of political rhetoric, it didn’t last long. And there's little indication that it changed the national political landscape.
Even the current political truce won’t extend to every aspect of the campaign: While both campaigns announced they would suspend political advertising in Colorado (a key swing state), attack ads in other states will likely continue to run as scheduled.
[Editor's note: This story was updated at 1:20 p.m., Eastern time, on Friday.]