Mitt Blows it on Sandy: Did the Hurricane Just Cost Him the Election?
Photo Credit: AFP
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It’s become a platitude to say that no one should be playing politics with Hurricane Sandy, but that’s silly. When the performance of government suddenly becomes a literal matter of life and death to many Americans, we ought to be thinking about what kind of government we want to have, and that involves politics.
It’s impossible not to see that this storm has devastated Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy. The response to the hurricane has seemed like one long dramatic Obama campaign commercial, a lesson in “We’re all in this together,” while Romney, the man who said he’d dismantle FEMA, flails on the sidelines.
Romney’s “relief” event outside of Dayton, Ohio, was surreal enough to be a campaign parody, with the candidate comparing the federal government’s hurricane relief efforts to the time he and some friends had to clean up a football field strewn with “rubbish and paper products.” It was supposed to be a parable of how Republicans handle disaster – with private charity, not government intervention – as Romney told his audience, “It’s part of the American spirit, the American way, to give to people in need.” The Republican went on to talk about the time some Hurricane Katrina survivors were rerouted from Houston to Cape Cod and the good people of Cape Cod responded by donating food and, yes, television sets.
Of course, as Alex Seitz-Wald writes, the Red Cross and other private charities are discouraging the donation of goods, preferring that kind Americans donate funds that can be used where they’re needed, not goods that must be sorted and distributed and may not even be necessary (television sets?).
Romney promised to put the goods on a truck to where they’re needed, “I think New Jersey,” he said.
That was a funny choice. Maybe it had to do with the fact that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has all but endorsed Obama in the last two days, repeatedly praising his “leadership.” He told the crew on “Morning Joe” that “It’s been very good working with the president. He and his administration have been coordinating with us. It’s been wonderful.” He told “Today” that FEMA’s response has been “excellent,” and he’s repeatedly tweeted his thanks to the president.
OK, let’s be honest: The New Jersey governor has not been Mitt Romney’s most loyal foot soldier. He was quick to join the calls for Romney to release his tax returns earlier this year, and his keynote speech in Tampa was more like a Christie 2016 campaign kickoff than a tribute to Romney. There’s obviously a heavy element of self-interest in Christie’s response. His approval as governor hinges on how he handles the storm, and so do his presidential aspirations. He’s got a huge incentive to work well with the president. He’s also got some incentive to stick a shiv in the flailing Republican contender, since a Romney loss would clear the way for a Christie 2016 bid as well. He’s clearly playing politics here.
But really, outside of Romney’s embarrassing European tour this summer, when he insulted Britain over Olympics planning and divulged a secret briefing by MI6, this is Romney’s worst moment yet. As the storm approached, political reporters dredged up his pledge to “absolutely” restructure FEMA to give power to the states. At a Republican debate in June 2011, he suggested the private sector should do more, because federal spending even on FEMA was “jeopardizing the future of our kids.” Tell that to the kids of New Jersey, Gov. Romney. And of course the Ryan budget would slash funding for FEMA.