2012: The Year of Non Game Changers

As we hold our breath awaiting the result of today's vote, our minds naturally turn to the events that defined this campaign. But just as notable are the ones that didn't.

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Christopher Morris / VII for TIME

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns in Pataskala, Ohio on Nov. 2, 2012

As we hold our collective breath awaiting the result of today’s vote, our minds naturally turn to the events that defined this campaign. The Obama team’s summer ad blitz defining Mitt Romney as a heartless uber-capitalist. Obama’s disastrous first debate performance. Superstorm Sandy.

Another way to think about the past year or so is to consider all the potentially pivotal events that didn’t ever happen. The dogs that never barked, as it were. The game-changers that never made it onto the playing field. Here are five:

Third Party, Pooped

Back in early summer, with Republicans and Democrats alike grumbling about their nominees, the window appeared at least ajar for a third-party candidacy. The well-funded Americans Elect was winning ballot access around the country, and chatterers buzzed that a moderate like Michael Bloomberg or Jon Huntsman might join the race as an independent. The potential effect on the race was hard to predict, but the prospect made the Obama camp nervous enough to go negative on Americans Elect. That group’s efforts fizzled, earning perhaps the weakest bang for the buck in American politics since the 2008 Giuliani campaign. It is still possible, however, that the Quixotic third party candidates Virgil Goode and Gary Johnson could draw enough votes to tip a swing state like Virginia or Ohio.

European Vacation

In June, Barack Obama himself warned that the European financial crisis posed a threat to his re-election. A worst-case scenario involving a Greek exit from the Euro and collapse of the continent’s shared currency could have sent the Dow Jones tumbling and even tipped the U.S. back into recession. Details are scant about the Obama team’s behind-the-scenes negotiations with European leaders to hold the Eurozone together, but they might turn out to have been more important to his re-election than any speech or campaign ad.

Terror Inert

The deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi became a rallying cry for Republicans this fall, but never moved large numbers of voters. Eventually, Mitt Romney dropped the subject entirely. More significant, 2012 passed without a real terrorism scare inside the United States. That was hardly a given. In 2009, a Nigerian man nearly bombed a passenger jet on Christmas Day, and the next year saw the disruption of two potentially deadly attacks on Manhattan and an intercepted bomb sent via FedEx from Yemen to Chicago. An attack during the campaign seemed totally possible, but the results unpredictable: A pro-Obama rally-round-the-flag effect? A collapse in Obama’s national security credentials? Thankfully for the country, it never came to that.

Losing Mitt’s Religion

Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential run was so dogged by questions about his Mormon faith that Romney gave a grand address on the subject. The GOP nominee did endure occasional anti-Mormon outbursts during the 2012 primaries. But during the general election, his faith rarely came up, except as the butt of occasional mild jokes, and there was little sign that voters cared about it. Yes, in the campaign’s closing days, some liberals circulated a 2007 video of Romney parrying a radio host’s aggressive questions about his religion. But Romney’s faith was ultimately a non-issue.


When Romney tapped Paul Ryan to be his running mate, Democrats gleefully declared the move an act of political suicide. Some of this was posturing. But some of it was based on a sincere belief that Ryan’s budget—and especially its controversial overhaul of Medicare—would prove to be an anchor around Romney’s neck. (This correspondent may even have written a story based in part on this theory.) Ryan and Romney punched back hard, however, accusing Obama of making his own cuts to Medicare in his health care bill (Obamacare did cut $716 billion from the program, though mostly in payments to providers, not beneficiaries). The ticket also clearly explained that their plan wouldn’t affect anyone over 55 and would continue the existing Medicare program as an option for younger Americans. If Romney winds up losing Florida because he underperformed with senior citizens, Republicans will second-guess his Ryan pick. It’s hard to argue it was the act of political suicide that many liberals predicted, however.


I'm actually really glad that Romney's Mormonism was such a non-issue.  I want him to lose, I want the Republicans to be embarrassed, but I want it to be on the merits (or rather, lack-thereof) of who they are.  The problem should never be that Mormonism is a misogynistic, racist cult - I really don't care.  That Romney and the Republicans are misogynistic racists who created the cult of tea that advocates you can cut taxes 20% and end up revenue neutral, turn medicare into a voucher system and still meet the needs of seniors, destroy ObamaCare but keep all the good parts, and just plain have your cake and eat it too: that's the reason that they should lose and that's the reason we should beat them - not because of their faith but because of the principles they have internalized.

After all, how many Liberal Catholics want to be judged based upon the actions and beliefs of the Vatican?


Good summary, Michael.

One more:  What if a storm like Sandy had happened earlier in the Hurricane season.  Would this have divertedattention from the economy to Global Warming, potentially helping Obama?  Or would the downturn caused by the economic hit from the hurricane have decreased Obama's chances, no matter how well he responded to the crisis.


I think it's good that there was no terrorist acts in the US; i hadn't realized that - but it's a good point. 


@forgottenlord IMO, Romney's Mormonism helped blunt the "Kenyan-Muslin" derangement that began in 2008.

The nutters had trouble working themselves into a lather about Obama this time because they weren't *really* sure what a Momon was, either...


@kathy I think Sandy hit at just the right time for President Obama.

In another 2-3 months, the MSM is going to be awash in tales of disaster response missteps, either by State or Local Gov't, or FEMA. It's inevitable when an event of this magnitude occurs. There will be folks who try to rip off the government, stories of unfortunate people who've managed to slip through the cracks, and tales of intra/inter-government bickering.

The RW would have blown any bad news coming out of the relief efforts *way* out of proportion. (Recall the BP Oil Spill: "Why doesn't the President DO SOMETHING?")

Thankfully, the event was "too new" and we were too involved in caring for survivors, to let the nattering nabobs clutter the airwaves. It will come, soon enough...  


@outsider2011 thats because we have a strong president... a puppet invites mayhem, a martyr invites doom, and a monkey invites weakness.



Yeah, I remember some morons on Fox News entertaining using mini nukes as a way to stop the BP spill.

In fantasy land nukes solves all issues from Comets to oil spills.