The 2012 election is the first presidential contest in the age of Twitter. It’s also the one that may be remembered as the one in which analysis of poll data became the subject of mass discussion as opposed to the domain of a few political science and statistical freaks. The New York Times’s Nate Silver is as responsible for this as anyone, but the trend is fed by the proliferation of national polls whose results are as varied as their methodologies. Silver has become something of a lightening rod in this election as his forecast which, has continually favored President Obama’s prospects, is now coming in for almost as much scrutiny as the policies of the man he’d like to see re-elected. As someone who has occasionally criticized Silver’s conclusions, I think the focus on him is unfortunate. Silver is a brilliant stat man who whose work attempts to bring the unsparing realism and devotion to accuracy and understanding that is the hallmark of sabermetrics — the study of baseball statistics that derives from the acronym for the Society of American Baseball Research — to political writing. That, like some baseball writers, he cannot always rise above his prejudices, is unfortunate but does not mean his work isn’t worthwhile. Silver is always a good read and even if he seems to have an agenda, I always learn from his posts.
Nevertheless, given the importance that Democrats are placing on his “Five Thirty Eight Forecast,” it was only a matter of time before Silver was given a thorough takedown and Josh Jordan of National Review has done it in a must read analysis. In “Nate Silver’s Flawed Model,” Jordan details how Silver’s partisan leanings have influenced his judgment about how much weight to give to various polls. As Jordan points out, Silver tends to assess the reliability of certain polls based on his feelings about whether they are right, which is to say sufficiently pro-Obama. While I don’t think Silver’s purpose is deception, his bias has created a model that seems designed to produce one result even if it contradicts what many see as a pro-Romney trend. As such, he’s become the geekiest yet perhaps also the most important cheerleader in the country these days as liberals look to his blog for comfort in trying times. But Silver isn’t the only one making mistakes out there.
Tonight at 9pm (ET), Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama will face off for the last time at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. Bob Schieffer of Face the Nation will be moderating this debate, focused entirely on foreign policy. Our editors will be live tweeting their quips, observations and reactions. Follow us on Twitter here and read our most recent tweets below.
Sen. John Kerry, national security sage, writes the following in an Obama campaign memo today (h/t Fox News):
Under President Obama’s leadership, we have devastated al-Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only has the United States taken out Osama bin Laden, but we have devastated a large majority of al-Qaeda’s core group of leaders. And today our nation is safer because these terrorists have been eliminated. But there is still more work to do. …
President Obama kept his promise to re-focus our efforts on the real reason we went to Afghanistan after 9/11 – to decimate al-Qaeda and prevent a return to the safe haven they had there. Now that we’re accomplishing those objectives, the President has a plan to end the war in 2014, and our troops are already coming home. After over a decade at war, the President has a plan to use the savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to do some nation-building here at home.
Not only is AQ not decimated in Afghanistan, it’s rebuilding strength as U.S. forces withdraw, Fox News reports:
One of the more interesting aspects of the current Israeli political pre-election shuffling is the unsettled nature of every major political party to the left of Likud. Kadima and Labor, the two largest parties outside the current governing coalition, have each been going through identity crises. The third wild card, Yair Lapid’s new Yesh Atid party, has no record and Lapid has no real political experience, leaving the public guessing as to where they fit on the ideological spectrum.
But now, it seems, there is suddenly a great degree of clarity. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may be back in court, as the state is strongly considering appealing some of the acquittals in his corruption case, and such legal action may make it impossible for him to run. That would make it much more likely that Tzipi Livni would return to the political stage without having to compete with Olmert. (Though the two reached some sort of agreement not to compete against each other anyway. No one, however, seems to know exactly what that means in practice.) But even more interesting–if not surprising–is the emergence of an identity for Labor and for Lapid’s Yesh Atid.
In recent weeks, some conservative Republicans have revolted against the party’s mainstream consensus that held that no effort should be made to help Rep. Todd Akin’s doomed Missouri Senate candidacy. Deceived by polls that showed him within range of unpopular incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill, they rallied to his side with fundraising and moral support. Their efforts were a misallocation of scarce Republican resources, but there were some who thought it possible that Akin could overcome the opprobrium that had rightly rained down on his head after his shockingly stupid and offensive comments about pregnancy and rape.
This past weekend, Akin dug himself a little deeper with comments that likened McCaskill to a dog. While not all that terrible in of themselves — most politicians have been called worse things than little dogs who play fetch — this latest gaffe ought to be a wake-up call for any conservative inclined to waste any more time on his behalf. Akin is the gift that keeps giving for Democrats, and Republicans would be well advised to follow the Romney campaign’s example and ignore the congressman’s forlorn campaign until it finally goes away of its own accord on Election Day.
The death of George McGovern has set off an avalanche of praise for the former senator and presidential candidate. As someone whose time on the political stage is long past and whose memory is unclouded by personal scandal, this treatment is entirely appropriate. McGovern was a distinguished war veteran and, by all accounts, conducted his long political career in an honest and honorable manner. Though such persons are by no means unknown in contemporary politics, for one reason or another they seem rare enough for a lot of people to think we would be better off if we had more McGoverns in Washington.
But however much respect the individual deserves, we also ought to acknowledge how McGovern helped transform the Democratic Party from the institution that effectively defended the West against Communism in the aftermath of World War II into one that stood for appeasement of the Soviet empire. Though the fall of the Berlin Wall has allowed many who opposed the policies that helped bring about that outcome to pretend as if there was always a wall-to-wall national coalition opposing the advance of Communism, McGovern’s passing is a reminder of how that that consensus was destroyed.
According to the latest White House-advancing spin, the CIA thought there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate for 11 entire days after the attack. This is amazing. Apparently the media has access to better intelligence than the CIA, since the general public found out the protest didn’t exist just two days after the attack, via McClatchy.
Sources tell the Wall Street Journal that our intelligence officials are so clueless that they clung to the idea that there were protests outside the consulate, even after savvier Obama advisors became skeptical and started raising questions:
President Barack Obama was told in his daily intelligence briefing for more than a week after the consulate siege in Benghazi that the assault grew out of a spontaneous protest, despite conflicting reports from witnesses and other sources that began to cast doubt on the accuracy of that assessment almost from the start.
New details about the contents of the President’s Daily Brief, which haven’t been reported previously, show that the Central Intelligence Agency didn’t adjust the classified assessment until Sept. 22, fueling tensions between the administration and the agency. …
That weekend, officials at the office of the Director of National Intelligence began to seriously question the accuracy of the assessment after receiving new information Sept. 15 and Sept. 16 from sources that suggested the consulate attack wasn’t preceded by a protest.
Despite the building doubts at the office of the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA stuck by its assessment during a deputies-level meeting at the White House on Sept. 17.
Even after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reportedly began to question the CIA’s account on September 15, the CIA allegedly refused to back down on the “spontaneous protest” claim until September 22. Question: The DNI compiles the presidential daily briefings from CIA intel, so how could it conclude the “spontaneous protest” line was wrong before the CIA did? And why would the CIA cling to a narrative if it had a preponderance of evidence contradicting it?
The most effective argument for President Obama in tonight’s foreign policy debate is consistent with the one the Democrats have been using as their all-purpose cudgel against Republicans this year: George W. Bush. Bush has been the president’s alibi on the economy as he continues to blame his predecessor for the country’s troubles on his watch. But on foreign policy, naming Bush is an offensive rather than a defensive stance since it allows the president to label his challenger as someone who would repeat the mistakes made by the 43rd president. To a country that is weary of 11 years of conflict in Afghanistan and shudders at the memory of the conflict America left in Iraq, calling Romney another Bush and calling his advisors “neocons” who are his “puppet masters” may be an effective, if somewhat unfair and misleading argument. But the real question on foreign policy is not whether the United States will invade any countries in the next four years, since neither man is likely to do that. Rather, it is whether they can learn from the mistakes made in the last decade made by both of the last two administrations.
Romney’s inherent caution makes him unlikely to be trigger-happy when it comes to foreign interventions that are now seen in retrospect as unfortunate. But invading countries is not the only sort of mistake a president can make. While Romney will be careful not to fall into the traps that undid Bush, it remains to be seen whether President Obama is capable of learning from the mistakes he has made in office, especially in the Middle East.
Mitt Romney gained three points since last week in the Politico/GWU battleground tracking poll, but the bigger news is that he’s leading President Obama by two points — the first time he’s been on top in this poll since early May:
A new POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Tracking Poll of 1,000 likely voters — taken from Sunday through Thursday of last week — shows Romney ahead of Obama by two points, 49 to 47 percent. That represents a three-point swing in the GOP nominee’s direction from a week ago but is still within the margin of error. Obama led 49 percent to 48 percent the week before. …
Across the 10 states identified by POLITICO as competitive, Romney leads 50 to 48 percent. …
Two weeks from Election Day, the GOP nominee also continues to maintain a potentially pivotal advantage in intensity among his supporters. Seventy-two percent of those who support Obama say they are “extremely likely” to vote, compared to 80 percent who back Romney. Among this group, Romney leads Obama by 7 points, 52 to 45 percent.
The intensity gap is just one of Obama’s problems. He’s also losing ground with women voters:
We’ve been seeing some interesting “scoops” about Benghazi on the eve of the foreign policy debate. Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times reported that there’s “no evidence” al-Qaeda had any ties to the consulate attack. No evidence? That’s funny, considering the group behind the attack, Ansar al-Sharia, is viewed as al-Qaeda’s face in Libya, according to a Library of Congress report from this summer. Also, the intelligence community reportedly intercepted phone calls in which Ansar al-Sharia leaders bragged to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb leaders after the attack. Also, the State Department has designated Ansar al-Sharia a new alias for al-Qaeda in Yemen, etc.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post‘s David Ignatius reported yesterday on CIA “talking points” that supposedly back up the administration’s initial “spontaneous reaction” story. But this isn’t much of a scoop or a story; these talking points were actually reported on weeks ago, and, according to Reuters, didn’t appear to match the actual intelligence.
At the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn writes:
As Jonathan wrote, the New York Times caused a stir over the weekend with its report that the Obama administration agreed to one-on-one talks with Iran over its nuclear program. The story has been interpreted (and reinterpreted) with respect to its utility to the president before tonight’s foreign policy debate depending on the perceived nature of the leaks. So when the story first broke, it was assumed the Obama administration thought this would be politically beneficial on the eve of the debate. When the vigorous denials came—convincing enough to get the Times to change its story without alerting its readers—the public seemed to reconsider.
It is now, therefore, seen as a negative story for the administration—unhelpful, as Obama officials might say. But why? What is it about face-to-face negotiations with the Iranians that the White House might consider damaging? Certainly, as Jonathan suggested, the story has echoes of President Obama’s hot-mic moment with former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in which Obama promised the Russians more “flexibility” if he is reelected. Did he make such promises to the Iranians, but try harder to keep them under wraps? That is one possibility. Another is that the president may not want such a stark reminder of one of the most famous moments of the 2007 Democratic primary debates, when Obama said he would grant the enemies of America their own presidential-level summits. Obama said:
Much of the country will be watching tonight’s presidential debate in Boca Raton, Florida. Both sides are playing, as they have before each of the previous two encounters between President Obama and Mitt Romney as well as the vice presidential tangle, the expectations game. And on an evening that will be devoted to foreign policy, both the president and his challenger are primed to exploit each other’s weaknesses and will hope to be proclaimed the victor by the spinners and the media. But if the polls are any judge, the odds are not much will be altered by the debate no matter which man comes off better.
Last week’s second debate was scored a clear victory for the president due to his livelier performance and Romney’s mistakes in the town hall format. But unless you believe the one outlier poll (Investors Business Daily/TIPP tracking poll), there doesn’t seem to have been any bounce for the president as a result of his getting the better of Romney. That means that even if Obama can repeat the same trick tonight, with Romney continuing to blunder, it probably won’t make a difference. That leaves us with the question as to why the first debate earlier this month in Denver proved so decisive. Was it that it was really more one-sided for Romney than Obama’s win at Hofstra University? Though it was, that doesn’t seem to be the answer, since if it was just a question of a margin of victory then Obama would have gotten more out of the second debate than he received.