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." http://yhoo.it/KEkGY6
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." http://on.wsj.com/PcKhIg
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." http://on.wsj.com/PcJiI2
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." http://bit.ly/PiE63s
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." http://yhoo.it/KEkGY6
ABC's RICK KLEIN: So the laser-focused-on-the-economy campaign went a little blurry with an ill-timed statement on an issue other than the Big One. Mitt Romney can't have that statement back - but neither can President Obama have his old environment back. As protests spread to Yemen overnight, the focus will turn to elements of the Obama foreign policy where the track record is mixed, at best. Romney needs to answer what he would actually be doing differently. Obama, though, needs to answer for more fundamental questions - how attacks and protest like this can be happening at American-controlled sites, and how we got to this point post-Arab Spring in the first place.
ABC's AMY WALTER: The challenge for Romney now is the same one he has stumbled on throughout the campaign: Can he provide a substantive counter-argument to Obama Administration policy instead of just rhetoric to the challenges America faces? With just 54 days left in the campaign, Romney is running out of time to make the case for why voters should pick him instead of why they should vote against Obama.
OBAMA: EGYPT NOT AN 'ALLY.' ABC's Molly Hunter reports: President Obama told José Diaz-Balart, host of Noticiero Telemundo, "I don't think that we would consider [the current Egyptian gov't] an ally but we don't consider them an enemy." Those are very strong words that could mark a dramatic shift in America's relationship with Egypt.
MORSI: EGYPT REJECTS 'UNLAWFUL ACTS.' After Obama made that comment in an interview with Telemundo, the Associated Press reports: "Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi vowed Thursday not to allow attacks on foreign embassies in Cairo, saying the Egyptian people reject such 'unlawful acts.' Speaking during a visit to the European Union in Brussels, Morsi said he had spoken to President Barack Obama and condemned 'in the clearest terms' the Tuesday attacks on the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi in which the ambassador and three other Americans died." http://abcn.ws/Q58iQi
with ABC's Chris Good ( @c_good)
FALLOUT: MIDDLE EAST POLICY. ABC's Jake Tapper writes: "President Obama will face questions about the Arab Spring; some in the foreign policy community, believing stability in the Middle East a more vital interest than freedom for its citizens, have questioned the Obama administration's support for the "Arab Spring." Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was a brutal dictator, but he was a U.S. ally. Opponents of the president will almost certainly call into question the wisdom of encouraging those demonstrating in the Arab street - because better organized than the idealistic youth in Egypt were Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood." http://abcn.ws/SH4BWW
OBAMA: ROMNEY TENDS TO 'SHOOT FIRST, AIM LATER.' President Obama fired back at Mitt Romney in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," ABC's Jake Tapper reports: President Obama assailed the reaction of his GOP opponent to the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi Wednesday, saying "Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first, aim later. And as president, one of the things I've learned is you can't do that." Mr. Obama said presidents must "make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts. And that you've thought through the ramifications before you make 'em." http://abcn.ws/QHWPbW
THE CAIRO EMBASSY'S P.R. DISASTER: STAFFER IGNORED INSTRUCTIONS. At least one Romney surrogate has suggested that the Cairo embassy's condemnation of the mysterious anti-Islam film was probably cleared by the White House, but The Cable's Josh Rogin reports: "One staffer at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo was responsible for the statement and tweets Tuesday that have become grist for the presidential campaign, and that staffer ignored explicit State Department instructions not to issue the statement, one U.S. official close to the issue told The Cable. … [Cairo senior public affairs officer Larry] Schwartz sent the statement to the State Department in Washington before publishing and the State Department directed him not to post it without changes, but Schwartz posted it anyway." http://bit.ly/QWEapo
KISSINGER: 'I CAN UNDERSTAND' ROMNEY'S 'SEVERE' REACTION. ABC's Michael Falcone reports: Reach by telephone Wednesday evening former U.S Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told ABC News that he "can understand" why Mitt Romney's initial reaction to the violence in the Middle East was "quite severe." "I think that an attack on an American embassy is always a grave matter," Kissinger said in a brief telephone interview. "When the attacks take place as a result of an event that's totally out of the control of the United States government, then it is an outrage against our basic values and we cannot - as a government - apologize for what these people construe as a provocation if our government was in no way involved." Kissinger, who has endorsed Romney and headlined a fundraiser for him this summer in Connecticut, added: "I can understand that the first reaction of Governor Romney was quite severe." http://abcn.ws/QWyM5H
NOTED: ROMNEY'S 'NO APOLOGY' FOREIGN POLICY. More from Falcone: … it's the same theme Romney hit in his Republican National Convention acceptance speech nearly two weeks ago: "I will begin my presidency with a jobs tour. President Obama began with an apology tour. America, he said, had dictated to other nations. No, Mr. President, America has freed other nations from dictators." … And it's all traceable back to the book Romney published in March 2010: "No Apology: The Case For American Greatness." http://abcn.ws/QlKbgK
ROMNEY STICKS WITH THE FOREIGN-POLICY ATTACKS. An press release and research memo from the Romney campaign Thursday morning states that "China has taken Obama 'to the mat." Statement from campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul: "Candidate Obama campaigned on a promise to take China 'to the mat' for their currency manipulation - but President Obama just hasn't delivered. For nearly four years, the President has repeatedly refused to crack down on China's cheating, and American workers are the ones who have paid the price. As president, Mitt Romney will stand up for the middle class by creating jobs here at home and protecting American jobs abroad."
STEVENS REMEMBERED. ABC's Jonathan Karl reports for "World News" on U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and the other Americans killed in Benghazi: "War was still raging when he first arrived in Libya last year. Ambassador Chris Stevens fully embraced one of the most dangerous diplomatic missions in the world … today on the streets of Benghazi, the Libyan people grieved for a friend. … Three other Americans died with the ambassador, including Sean Smith, in Libya on a brief assignment." http://abcn.ws/PdDNJ5
NOTED: MCCAIN PRAISES STEVENS. The senator, who traveled to Libya with Chris Stevens, praises the departed U.S. ambassador in an interview with ABC's Jonathan Karl in the latest installment of "Spinners and Winners": "Chris Stevens was one of the finest men I've ever known in my life. He loved the Libyan people, they loved him, he and I were down there on Election Night, and people were saying, 'Thank you, America.' So what the object here is, is for the jihadists to drive us out of Libya and turn Libya into one of these radical states. I guarantee you: The one thing that Chris Stevens did want is for us to abandon Libya." http://yhoo.it/TNWur5
HOW IT HAPPENED. ABC's Martha Raddatz reports on the attack: "They came in darkess: 20 heavily armed attackers-swift, savage, and deadly. The Libyan security guards protecting the American consulate fired back but were overwhelmed. There were no U.S. Marines to help. The main building of the consulate was quickly set ablaze. … A terror group affiliated with al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the well-coordinated attack." http://abcn.ws/TNQC0V
WHO'S BEHIND THE FILM? The protests at Cairo's embassy were sparked by a mysterious film, posted to YouTube and allegedly produced in California, depicting the Prophet Muhammad-but no one can find the man who made it. ABC's Lama Hasan and David Wright report for "World News" on its imact in Cairo and murky origins, allegelyd in the U.S. Wright reports: "A very long fuse appears to have ignited this controversy, and it's not at all clear where it leads … we're told there was a screening on Sunset Boulevard, but that no one came to the theater-and no records of that." http://abcn.ws/Os1Hn5
CALIFORNIA MAN CONFIRMS ROLE. The Associated Press reports: "he search for those behind the provocative, anti-Muslim film that triggered mobs in Egypt and Libya led Wednesday to a California Coptic Christian convicted of financial crimes who acknowledged his role in managing and providing logistics for the production. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, said he was manager for the company that produced "Innocence of Muslims," which mocked Muslims and the prophet Muhammad and was implicated in inflaming mobs that attacked U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya. Nakoula denied he directed the film and said he knew the self-described filmmaker, Sam Bacile." http://bit.ly/RTO5At
PAUL RYAN ON BIPARTISANSHIP: 'WE LEAD.' Ryan tells Fox News' Greta Van Susteren: "Well, I don't know how you get Harry Reid to work. That's been (inaudible) three years. So I can't speak for what it takes to get Harry Reid to make decisions or the Senate to do something. But I know what we do, is we lead. We reach across the aisle; we don't demonize and demagogue people. We work with them, just like I did on Medicare reform. Our tax reform proposals, they have bipartisan origin. Get rid of tax shelters and special interest loopholes, lower tax rates for everybody. There are a lot of Democrats who agree with us. Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill last did this …" http://fxn.ws/U8ZmKM
MAJORITY PAC, SEIU HIT TOMMY THOMPSON WITH TV AD. With Mitt Romney going on the air there, Wisconsin is once again a hotbed of campaign activity. Now, the Democratic House-race-focused super PAC Majority PAC and the Service Employees International Union will air an ad attacking GOP Senate nominee Tommy. A narrator says: "We could pay Tommy Thompson to cut our taxes, just like he's promised to do for all those companies who paid him over 13 million as their D.C. insider." The ad begins running today. Watch the ad here: http://bit.ly/RObkYg
BILL CLINTON STICKS TO THE ECONOMY. The L.A. Times' Paul West reports from Orlando, Fla.: "Focused like a laser beam on making an economic case for President Obama's reelection, Bill Clinton wrapped up a two-day Florida campaign swing Wednesday by reprising applause lines from his recent national convention speech. The former president made no reference to the deadly attack on U.S. diplomatic personnel in Libya … 'no president, not Barack Obama, not Bill Clinton, not anybody who served before us, nobody who ever had this job, could have repaired that much damage to this economy in just four years,' he said to prolonged cheers …" http://lat.ms/OJhyJU
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX
-COMING ATTRACTIONS: MOVE ON BUILDS 'VOTER CONTACT ARMY'. MoveOn.org Political Action launches its "Voters Rising" election program this weekend. The group says the program is "aimed at ensuring that progressives turnout to vote for President Obama and progressive candidates this November, the program will start with hundreds of house parties to recruit swing-state volunteers. MoveOn's partnership with the AFL-CIO affiliate Workers' Voice, a centerpiece of the Voters Rising program, brings together both groups' combined 19 million members and optimizes volunteer effectiveness by adjusting targeting in real time. At more than 450 call parties MoveOn members not in swing states, will make thousands of phone calls to members in key battleground states to build a progressive voter contact army."
@markknoller : This is Pres Obama 14th visit to Colorado since taking office. His 9th this year. He won CO in '08 by 54%-45%. Polls show it a toss-up.
@kakukowski : Buzzfeed: Barack Obama Used Troop Deaths To Ding Bush, McCain Support For Iraq In 2008 http://www.buzzfeed.com/andrewkaczynski/barack-obama-used-troop-deaths-to-ding-bush-mccai …
@Sarah_Boxer : Just finished "You Know When The Men Are Gone" by Siobhan Fallon, abt Fort Hood families. Well written, a meaningful read.
with ABC's Josh Haskell ( @HaskellBuzz)
-President Barack Obama holds a campaign event in Golden, Colo.
-Mitt Romney holds a rally at Van Dyck Park in Fairfax, Va. this afternoon.
-Vice President Biden campaigns in Eau Claire, Wisc. and returns to Washington this evening to address the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's 35th Anniversary Awards Gala.
-Paul Ryan is in Washington, DC for Congressional business.
Check out The Note's Futures Calendar : http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV