Did Romney Torpedo His Campaign by Politicizing Embassy Attacks?
Mitt Romney wasted little time in trying to capitalize on violent attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in the Middle East, and many are concluding that the decision will cost him. Being seen to undermine foreign policy at a time of volatility can make a candidate appear to be more interested in winning an election than in the security of his country.
Tuesday night, on the anniversary of 9/11, mobs attacked facilities in Egypt and Libya to protest a film made by a California filmmaker that ridiculed Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Before the protests started, embassy officials in Cairo issued a statement that criticized the film, a move Romney denounced as a sign that the administration had a tendency to “sympathize with those who waged the attacks." (Hours later, as the protest developed and grew serious, the Obama administration disavowed that statement.) Romney painted the President as weak and succumbed to the GOP tendency to vilify the Obama as somehow un-American.
The presidential election has taken a new twist.
Romney’s remarks appear to be an attempt to appeal to voters with neoconservative tendencies and to strengthen his position in Florida, where he read a brief statement on Wednesday. (Sarah Palin, for her part, seemed to strike at the President’s masculinity, suggesting that Obama lacked a “big stick” on foreign policy and needs to “grow one.”)
So far the President has declined to enter a political back-and-forth, vowing at the Rose Garden Wednesday morning that "justice will be done" in response to the deaths of four Americans in Libya.
Romney’s rapid response to the attacks harkens back to the fallout from the American embassy seizure in 1980 in Iran, which made Americans look weak as the embassy was taken over and hostages were captured.
But Romney’s criticism has garnered its own criticism, with journalist Mark Halperin stating that Romney's decision at the Florida news conference to repeat his attacks on Obama might be the "most craven and ill-advised move of '12." David Rothkopf, a former Clinton State Department official, called it “ugly and amateurish.” Salon reports that the Libyan ambassador to the U.S. has expressed dismay that the attacks are being used as politcal fodder. Even conservatives have been disgusted by Romney’s handling of the situation. A former aide to Senator John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign denounced it as “not ready for prime time." Writing in the American Conservative, Scott Galupo has called the tactics "The First Unmistakable Sign of Panic from the Romney Campaign" and went so far as to pronounce fellow conservative Daniel Larison's description of the Romney response as “hasty and stupid” to be "charitable." (See additional reactions on Buzzfeed).
Wednesday morning, the President released a statement condemning the attacks: "While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally opposed the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants,” he observed. Later on Wednesday, both the president and Secretary of State Clinton made additional statements, both clear repudiations of the violence.
Romney’s grandstanding is reminiscent of John McCain’s 2008 decision to suspend his campaign in response to the financial crisis, a strategy that was seen as a transparent political move and ultimately hurt the candidate.
If consensus builds that Romney’s maneuvering was a stupid and dangerous political ploy and insensitive not only to the deaths of fellow citizens but to the feelings of Americans on the 9/11, he may find himself having a McCain moment.