DANA MILBANK: Perfect political storm

By Dana Milbank

WASHINGTON – New Jersey piled sandbags. Delaware fortified its dunes. New York evacuated parts of lower Manhattan.
And Washington prepared for the storm with its own brand of emergency response: gaming out which candidate would benefit.
“Just the frenzy around the forecast could disrupt this week’s early voting, which probably hurts President Obama,” Politico speculated. “But he also has an opportunity to be seen as president – a commander in chief moment.”
A good answer to all of these questions: Who knows? An even better answer: Who cares?
The likely consequences of the storm would be millions without power, tens of millions unable to work or go to school, tens of thousands forced from their homes and lives inevitably lost. But there is something ghoulish about finding political advantage in so much human misery.
The candidates did what they should have done: They suspended campaign appearances and appealed for contributions to the Red Cross. But the political industrial complex, already in motion for next week’s election, could not demobilize so quickly.
On the left, Huffington Post posted a headline saying Mitt Romney wanted to “Shut Down Federal Disaster Agency.” This news bulletin, based on his comments in a debate in June 2011, was picked up by other outlets on the left and provoked a response from the Romney campaign, which said the Republican nominee would not abolish FEMA.
On the right, the Drudge Report went with the headline “Most Expensive Pizza Delivery in History,” linking to a Washington Times report about Obama flying to Orlando on Sunday only to cancel his event and return to the White House on Monday morning before the storm’s full impact.
The conspiracy contingent, meantime, found material in a statement from the Labor Department, reported by The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and others, that possible changes to the release of Friday’s report on October employment would be announced “when the weather emergency is over.”
A BLS spokesman, no doubt huddling in a dark basement with his computer on battery power, quickly clarified that the plan was still for a Friday report.
The Sunday-show roundtables switched seamlessly to meteorological punditry. CNN’s Candy Crowley quizzed David Axelrod on the political consequences of Virginia being “more or less paralyzed by weather.” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos grilled Stephanie Cutter on the same.
It took Sen. John McCain, of all people, to be the voice of calm, when CBS’ Bob Schieffer asked “who gets hurt the most” by the storm. “I’m not sure it will affect votes,” the Arizona Republican speculated sagely.
Nobody did more Hurricane Sandy war-gaming than Politico, which examined every possible political permutation: it could help Obama in Virginia and Ohio; it could hurt Obama in Virginia and Ohio; it could blunt the impact of political ads; it could magnify the impact of political ads; it could make Obama look presidential; it could magnify any Obama mistake; it could stop Romney’s momentum; it could complicate Obama’s “ground game”; it could help New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s 2016 presidential bid.
In other words: Nobody had any idea.
Dana Milbank’s email address is danamilbank@washpost.com.