I believe we are watching a historic first: A series of election wave-generating events one week before election day. The patterns below happen a great deal to Presidents, but never that close to the actual vote.
Presidents are frequently tested by events outside their control. Most of the time the public rallies around them, but sometimes they fail. The flashing light bulb example of success and failure could not be more obvious.
Look at President Obama's response before, during and directly after Hurricane Sandy. Look at how he managed storm preparation (I mean, really, all you need to know is that Michael "Heckuva Job" Brown thought he moved to fast), how he reached out to the Governors, his response to actually stop campaigning - really stop campaigning, Senator McCain - and manage federal response. How about how pleased Governor Christie has been with that response? What about his genuine care and concern for the people he's met who have been hurt by the crisis. Seen that video of President Obama with the woman who lost her marina yet?
The President showing leadership, true bipartisanship (he heaped some compliments on Governor Christie, as well), integrity of actually leaving the campaign to manage the disaster response in a very close race, and authentic empathy.
So that's good enough for a bump. Bumps happen for candidates when things perform well. The President's solid leadership this week further motivated his supporters, reassured wavering supporters from 2008, and definitely settled the concerns of the undecided voters (one poll measured public support for President Obama's handling of the disaster at 78%). His support from Governor Christie and now NYC Mayor Bloomberg might even move a few soft Romney supports over.
But that's not a wave. A wave takes two parts: One part bump in support for one candidate, but the other is a failure on the part of the other candidate.
This week President Obama succeeded, but Mitt Romney also failed. His failure was as epic as ever. Frankly, Romney should have written a big check to the Red Cross, urged his supporters to contribute, praised the President and FEMA for their work, and then just shut his mouth.
But he couldn't do it. He just could not be relevant, not because he didn't have the capacity even, but simply because he currently holds no elective office. And clearly, his insecurity (remember, "Romney - Ryan, Romney - Ryan"?) and political drive outweighed the common sense that tells us all that this was not a political moment.
Romney's decision to cancel his campaign but then hold a disaster relief effort, which included supplies purchased by his campaign at Walmart (just in case nobody brought anything) and the Romney campaign video that would have run had it been a rally, reminded us all of phony and transparently political (and incompetent) that campaign has been.
On top of this, there was Romney's previous announcement during the primaries that he thought FEMA could be replaced by the state governments themselves, or perhaps even privatized. Repeated questions by reporters about this issue this week were met with silence by the candidate (until he shape-shifted out of this through a campaign statement 48 hours later). He looked trivial, silly, whiny, and incompetent.
Again, this is what the beginning of a wave looks like: President Obama reinforces what everybody likes about him and alleviates doubts about his leadership skills. Mitt Romney reinforces what everbody hates about him, and doubts about his integrity and capabilities grow. And the gap between leader and inept challenger begins to grow.
The question - with 5 days until Election Day - is just how far will it take the President. Only time will tell.