It's the narrative, Stupid.

Jonah Goldberg has a great piece today at NRO about the media’s situational dependent judgement on what constitutes a “distraction”.  But a larger point must be made that these “distractions” are vitally important to election outcomes. Many conservative apparently don’t understand that “the narrative” is what national politics is all about. Every four years each party pushes a storyline and the winner is the one who best encapsulates its message for easy digestion. You can HARUMPH all summer long about what a mess we are in and how bad the BO Administration has been, but unless you frame it in a way that connects with the average non-engaged voter, it won’t matter.

Back in 1980 the narrative that the media and the Democrats were pushing was: Ronald Reagan is dangerous.  This likely would have succeeded but for the fact that Jimmy Carter was such an obvious failure that the “Reagan is a nut” canard never got off the ground.

In 1984 Walter Mondale tried to control the narrative by putting a woman on the ticket. Geraldine Ferraro was unqualified but her candidacy was doomed only after some of her husband’s business dealings came under scrutiny.

In 1988 the Democrats, hungry after eight years out, thought they could portray George H. W. Bush as a “wimp” and Michael Dukakis as “competent” in contrast.  Then in a seemingly routine interview on CBS this happened:

With that unexceptional exchange Bush demolished the “wimp factor” and when Dukakis decided to be filmed riding in a tank looking goofy with a huge helmet on his head, and was never able to effectively manage the Willie Horton Factor, his claim to competence was vanquished. On such trivial events, distractions if you will, do elections shift and turn.

In his NRO column Goldberg makes a critical point:

And let me say a word in defense of distractions. Elections are about what voters want them to be about. Rosen’s comments, for instance, may have been hyped by the Romney campaign, but the hype wouldn’t have mattered if the comments didn’t resonate with the public.