Steffen Schmidt, IAFC Blogger
Steffen W. Schmidt, University Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Iowa State University, WNYC blogger, and chief Political correspondent of Insider Iowa.
Florida and specifically Tampa seem to have dodged the bullet with Hurricane Isaac. That’s fortunate for the GOP as they roll out their national convention. However, Isaac has decided to take a course for the city of New Orleans and forecasts say it may be a Hurricane 2 when it lands. For the Republicans that’s very bad news indeed.
First, New Orleans is an iconic city and another hurricane headed for the Big Easy is big news. Instead of the GOP convention and the “roll out” of Mitt Romney, it’s fair to say that all of the news media will be focused on the storm and its next victim. That sucks the oxygen out of Tampa.
Second, if there is flooding damage or God forbid, deaths from the storm it will take swift and decisive government action at the local, state, and federal level to mitigate the damage. Big government is NOT what the Republicans stand for. It will be hard for the GOP to hammer home the case of smaller government in the middle of a crisis where only government can make a difference.
Third, it brings unwanted attention to the Republican party's missteps in the past few weeks. One of my students came to office hours last week and asked me if I thought God was sending a message about the GOP by having Isaac hit just when the Republicans were meeting.
"It can’t be accidental that a lot of bad things have been happening at the same time,” she said. I asked her what she meant. She said “Well, there was that congressman who said women who are raped can’t get pregnant. Then there were the Republican members of Congress who swam naked in the Sea of Galilee where Jesus walked on water. And now there is this hurricane.”
The fact that this is now a talking point among some people just reminds the nation of the Republicans' image problem growing worse after the Rep. Todd Akin scandal and other moments of buffoonery.
Of course I believe that Isaac could also be a disaster for Obama. If the hurricane disables oil drilling, refining, and transport facilities the price of diesel, airplane fuel, gasoline, and heating oil will shoot up. This will create anxiety and give the Republicans another chance to blame Obama for higher gas prices just before the election. At the same time the storm will certainly detract from the message the Democrats are trying to drill down on regarding the Republican position on abortion, Medicare and Mitt Romney’s taxes. It will be very difficult for these political points to get any serious purchase.
Politics is a strange beast. Symbolism and unanticipated events can play a huge role in the process.
Think of the huge impact the Great Depression and World War II had on the fate of the Democrats. It basically propelled that party to predominance in American politics with consequences we still feel today. Social Security and many of the programs that are at the center of today’s political controversy had their birth as a consequence. Without the War and its aftereffects, Franklin D. Roosevelt would not have risen to prominence, would not have been a four term President and everything would be different today.
A tropical storm is not at that level of gravity. However, unforeseen events can have political side effects of significance. Keep an eye on Isaac. It comes at an unfortunate time. It may change the chemistry of election 2012.