A few months back, the New York Times‘ statistics guru Nate Silver made an observation: “The phrase ‘game changer’ has been used 2,870 times in news outlets over the past 30 days.” That was in July, before the debates, 47 percent, and about three dozen-over-caffeinated Drudge Report headlines. When I did the same search on Thursday, I found 19,600 results, which, all things considered, seems a bit low. Since the phrase entered the Pantheon of Political Cliches™ four years ago, the term has become so ubiquitous a crutch for political pundits that it officially entered the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary earlier this year.
Here is a list of every event in the last 10 months that has been labeled a game-changer in the presidential race:
Cars. Sandy’s arrival. Chris Christie. President Obama’s divorce papers. Donald Trump’s challenge to Obama. The first debate. Fox News report on CIA’s request for military backup in Benghazi. Pennsylvania. Romney’s tax plan. Arizona’s birther law. The revelation that President Obama is not very good at basketball. Lindsay Lohan’s Romney endorsement. The second debate. Paul Ryan. Those Sarah Silverman GOTV videos. Jobs. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan. That Daily Caller video. DHS immigration directive. A hypothetical Romney pledge to only serve one term. Romney’s VMI speech. Dreams From My Real Father. A hypothetical joint US–Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. A hypothetical debate question about why Obama didn’t dispatch F-16s to Benghazi. The youth vote. Conservative turnout in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Ohio. The entire election. The Osama Bin Laden raid. A book about the Osama Bin Laden raid. A hypothetical McCain vice presidency. The Benghazi cover-up. A new book from WorldNetDaily. A hypothetical question about Simpson–Bowles. First-time Puerto Rican voters. Latinos. Asian-Americans. The 47 percent tape. Paul Ryan’s “makers and takers” riff. Suburban women. October jobs report. September jobs report. Democrats’ ground game. Obama’s tech operation. James O’Keefe’s voter fraud sting. Gallup early voting poll. October 27 Gallup tracking poll. Gloria Allred. The Walker recall. Paul Ryan’s interview with WJRT-TV, Flint. January jobs report. The Des Moines Register endorsement. Ann Romney’s RNC speech. Paul Ryan’s VP speech. Mitt Romney’s RNC speech. Dick Morris’ television ad (as reported by Dick Morris). Middle East chaos. Todd Akin. Bill Clinton’s DNC speech. Obama’s gay marriage endorsement. Ladies. Virgil Goode. Obama’s voter registration figures. Dinesh D’Souza’s movie. 1998 video of Obama making case for progressivism. Boston Globe‘s Bain story. Hypothetical release of Romney tax returns from hackers who demanded ransom payment in Bitcoins. The status quo.
Not everything can be a game-changer, though. In some cases, pundits have concluded that an event that might have become a game-changer was not, in fact, a game-changer. Note that some events appear in both categories:
The first debate. The second debate. The third debate. The vice presidential debate. Fisher v. University of Texas. Yawning. October jobs report. Richard Mourdock’s rape comment. Colorado’s marijuana initiative. Celebrity endorsers. Colin Powell. Ann Romney’s RNC speech. Benghazi. Ross Perot. Paul Ryan. The Osama Bin Laden raid. Roseanne Barr’s television ad. Obama’s DNC speech. Michael Bloomberg. Dinesh D’Souza’s movie. That Daily Caller video.
The moral of the story is that we’re still really bad at predicting the future.