In the last few days, Mitt Romney has doubled down on his statement that President Obama “sympathized” with the mobs that attacked US embassies in Cairo and Libya that left dozens — including Ambassador Christopher Stevens — dead. Romney’s statement was made in response to the American Embassy in Egypt’s condemnation of an anti-Muslim video that set off riots throughout the region. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” read the statement released just before news of Stevens’ death.
This was a dumb move for a lot of reasons. First, it’s best to keep quiet on complex foreign policy issues while they are actually transpiring. Second, Romney’s statement was based on a statement released by the Egyptian embassy — which was geared towards preempting violent action — and not a White House response. Then with the violence still underway, Romney got cute with reporters, embargoing the statement (so as to avoid the September 11th anniversary) before allowing the press to release the statement just before midnight.
Despite fitting into Romney’s nebulous foreign policy mantra (“Obama is apologizing for America!”), the “sympathizing” line fell on deaf ears. All across the political spectrum, everybody — and I mean everybody (save campaign shill Jennifer Rubin and the usual suspects) — has denounced Romney’s comment as a tasteless blend of deceit and opportunism, not to mention a serious political error.
Three months ago, would Mitt Romney have made such a mistake? The guy was a machine. Any day where Romney wasn’t talking about the economy — and there weren’t many — was a losing day. His campaign was pragmatic to the point of boredom. But after weeks of discouraging polls and unforced errors coupled with an absent convention bounce, the Romney camp has become so desperate to dislodge President Obama’s positive image that they risk falling into a familiar trap. Blake Zeff reminds us of the campaign trajectories of Obama’s former foes, Hillary Clinton and John McCain:
Frustrated with their inability to win a single news cycle, their strategy ultimately devolved into a simple determination to score points wherever possible, even when it put them at odds with their original strategy. With Hillary Clinton, a campaign based on superior experience turned to accusations of plagiarism and flip-flopping. In the case of John McCain, a campaign based on patriotism and straight talk came to revolve around a random encounter Obama had with a plumber about taxes (and, in the ultimate demonstration of their anything-to-break-through mentality, Sarah Palin).
With every new impetuous political misstep, Romney looks doomed to walk this same path. You can blame the liberal media all you want — and they do — but is the backlash against an ill-considered and indefensible criticism lodged on the anniversary of September 11th amid a violent attack that surprising?
Three months ago, everything Mitt Romney did looked calculated. He would have never veered so off message just to make a pitifully risky grab at political points. But you can’t look at stubborn swing state polling for that long or lose seemingly every single news cycle before desperation starts to kick in.