Global terrorism in a presidential election year can be construed as an advantage--though not the sort that should be talked about. When John McCain campaign advisor Charlie Black said in early June, 2008, that a terrorist attack would be a “big advantage” to Republican presumptive nominee John McCain, he ended up having to apologize publicly.
But Black was far from the first to suggest that terrorism, and a nominee's response to it, would reveal a presidential hopeful’s electability. Indeed, since 1976, when international terrorism became an issue for the first time in a presidential election, candidates have routinely used terrorism as a way of vaunting their presidential potential. Because terrorists don’t (and can’t, because they aren’t state actors) follow the rules of war, they have historically required flexibility and muscularity and decisive will to act. Presidential hopefuls have wasted little time, from the Carter-Reagan contest of 1980 to the present, at trying to show they have they have these qualities.