Ask Americans about Jimmy Carter, and the most popular response may well be: “Um. Wait. Was he a president or something?” After all, the man left office more than three decades ago, long before many voters were born. Unlike the Reagan years, there was nothing definitional about Carter’s presidency—which was one of its problems. And unlike Bill Clinton, the Man from Plains didn’t preside over a boom time—which was another one of his problems. He’s been a swell ex-president, but normal people don’t pay much heed to ex-presidents, especially the ones who run around doing fine things for humanity (yawn). Sure, to some politicos, “Jimmy Carter” is still synonymous with a gloomy and failed presidency. But for everybody else, Jimmy Carter was yesterday’s news 20 years ago.
But he’s about to make a dramatic comeback, if the Romney campaign has anything to say about it. At Salon, Craig Unger reported today on the grand turnaround strategy that Team Romney is “chortling with glee” about: “to portray Obama as a helpless, Jimmy Carter-like president and to equate the tragedy in Libya with President Carter’s failed attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980.” They’re calling it the Jimmy Carter Strategy, or the October Surprise. It hinges on releasing some intelligence that purports to show Obama knew about plans to attack the U.S. embassy in Libya before it happened—and then using it to paint Obama as “weak on terrorism,” just like Carter.
Of course, folks like Karl Rove and Paul Ryan—and Romney himself, in his far-too-soon critique of Obama while the crisis was still roiling—have already been howling about Libya. And the mixed-up messages of Obama and his aides, who still can’t seem to decide on what really happened, has certainly put a small chink in the president’s formidable terror-fighting armor. Potentially damaging stories are starting to trickle out about the pre-attack intel. But the idea that Jimmy Carterizing the president is the magic bullet that the Romney campaign has been waiting for? It gives new meaning to “grasping at straws.” Even if Obama=Carter somehow caught on like wildfire, as the Romney folks are betting, there’s no history of October Surprises working wonders; today, Kevin Drum at Mother Jones has a history of Surprises dating back to the 1940s that suggests they’re about as likely to turn an election as the mythical “debate bounce.”
So They Say
“In debate, @MittRomney should ask Obama why autobiography states, ‘born in Kenya, raised in Indonesia.’”
—Donald Trump’s idea of a great debate “zinger” for Romney
Daily Meme: Our Guy Stinks
- With the first presidential debate only two days away, both sides are spinning like mad to lower expectations for their own guy. As Dan Amira points out, "Their efforts so far are more amusing than convincing, however."
- Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul said of her boss's opponent, “President Obama is the most gifted speaker in modern political history, so it is hard to imagine anyone outscoring him in debate points.”
- Senior adviser Beth Myers wrote last week that "Obama is a uniquely gifted speaker" who "is widely regarded as one of the most talented political communicators in modern history."
- Chris Christie went off-script, though, saying that Romney is going to hit it out of the park.
- Obama’s team is united in its determination to poor-mouth their man's debating skills. Spokesperson Jen Psaki says that Obama's answers just might be too substantive to work well in the debate.
- DNC spokesperson Brad Woodhouse reminds everyone that Romney beat Newt Gingrich in the Republican primary debates. How are they supposed to compete with someone who managed that feat?
- Even Obama joined in the debate race to the bottom at a campaign rally on Sunday: “Governor Romney, he’s a good debater. I’m just OK.”
- "All things considered,” writes Mike Tomasky, "we should consider it a win if the president even manages to remember Jim Lehrer’s name. Really.”
- Another big edge for Mitt: Apparently he’s been preparing "zingers and special lines" for months.
- Let’s hope they are better than his zingers of debates past.
What We're Writing
- Paul Waldman asks: Why are 3,000 journalists traveling to Denver so they can watch the debate on TV?
- Steve Erickson scripts a debate answer that could clinch the election for Obama.
What We're Reading
- At The New Yorker, Chrystia Freeland probes the “super-rich irony” of billionaires feeling victimized by Obama.
- McSweeney’s has a fabulous mid-season review of “Hit Television Series, American Election 2012.”
- Some foreign leaders look to The West Wing to understand how American democracy works. Yair Rosenberg explains why they shouldn’t.
- David Horowitz claims that Grover Norquist is a “practicing Muslim.”
- Would Obama’s re-election be more transformative than his first victory? Touré and Andrew Sullivan think so.
- Gee, thanks a lot: Hugo Chavez says he’d vote for Obama if he could. Team Obama couldn’t be more delighted.
Poll of the Day
Sixty-seven percent of voters can pinpoint Mitt Romney as the progenitor of the "47 percent" comments dominating election coverage the past few weeks, while 29 percent don't know who said those things. Fifty-five percent of those who know it was Romney report a negative reaction, while 23 percent of respondents react positively. When you split the reactions by party, not surprisingly, the differences grow stark—54 percent of Republicans find positive connotations (!) in the secret video remarks, while 88 percent of Democrats react negatively.
For more polling information, go to the Prospect’s 2012 election map.