A while back — even before Mitt Romney had assumed the mantle of presumptive Republican nominee — Yahoo News' political columnist and long-time election analyst Jeff Greenfield wrote about 2012's "Black Swan."
His column had nothing to do with the 2010 ballet-noir film starring Natalie Portman, but rather a 2007 book by author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, which as Greenfield wrote, "examines our persistent 'ability' to ignore the potentially huge effects of unlikely, random events" — what Taleb termed "Black Swans."
Given the violence against American diplomatic missions in Middle East, and the deaths of four U.S. personnel including Ambassador Chris Stevens, and the spreading tensions to other parts of the world, we may have an election-year Black Swan on our hands.
And now it's up to both candidates to turn that challenge into an opportunity.
Before and after the killings in Benghazi, Mitt Romney's strategy has been to come out swinging. His defiant statement yesterday, accusing President Obama of sending "mixed messages to the world" showed Romney's willingness to make this week's foreign policy crisis a campaign issue — even if the facts weren't entirely on his side.
(Romney initially lashed out at a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo criticizing an anti-Muslim movie that started the conflagration in the Middle East. But the statement was released before the attacks on America's diplomatic missions in Cairo or Benghazi had taken place.)
Even so at his news conference in Jacksonville, Fla. yesterday, Romney called it "disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."
This morning the Romney campaign is proudly touting a Wall Street Journal editorial titled "Romney Offends the Pundits," which points a finger at the media: "Tuesday's assaults on the U.S. Embassies in Benghazi and Cairo have injected foreign policy into the Presidential campaign, but suddenly the parsons of the press corps are offended by the debate. They're upset that Mitt Romney had the gall to criticize the State Department for a statement that the White House itself disavowed."
The campaign is also circulating an Op-Ed, also in the Wall Street Journal today, penned by Liz Cheney who criticized the president's response: "Apologizing for America, appeasing our enemies, abandoning our allies and slashing our military are the hallmarks of Mr. Obama's foreign policy."
Still, it's dangerous ground for the GOP candidate, who was weighed down yesterday by a boatload of criticism.
"They were just trying to score a cheap news cycle hit based on the embassy statement and now it's just completely blown up," a source described as a "very senior Republican foreign policy hand," told BuzzFeed's Ben Smith in an article in which the Romney campaign's strategy was described variously as a "bungle" and an "utter disaster."
Nevertheless, it's still likely that economic issues will persist as the number one issue on voters' minds heading into Election Day. But it's worth remembering that four years ago — after a lot of talk about foreign policy on the campaign trail — it turned out to be the financial meltdown that ultimately helped deflate John McCain's presidential campaign.
As Yahoo's Greenfield noted months ago, "In political terms, 'Black Swans' have shown up often enough to make even the boldest soothsayer hold his tongue."