Some moments show you when a candidate is ready or not to become President of the United States. I suspect last night will become one of those moments for Mitt Romney. The verdict will not be positive.
As I noted last night, when the full scale of the events in Cairo and Benghazi remained unknown, the Romney campaign let fly a crude political attack both blaming the Obama administration for the attacks and suggesting that the President actually sympathized with them. This was after it was known that an as yet-unnamed Foreign Service Officer (later identified as Sean Smith) had died.
The statement read as follows …
“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. 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.”
This was followed shortly by another attack from one of Romney’s prime surrogates, RNC Chair Reince Priebus, explicitly accusing the President of sympathizing with the attackers.
Romney’s attack was not only ill-judged and ill-timed, it was actually based on what appears to be a demonstrable falsehood. Romney, or folks writing in his name at his campaign, claimed that the administration’s first response to the attacks was to issue a press release condemning the anti-Islam film which had helped trigger the attack. This they picked wholesale from the right-wing blogosphere.
In fact, according to all available press reports and the account of the State Department, the press release in question came from the US Embassy in Egypt and preceded the attacks. So to claim it was a response to the attacks was simply false. So while American diplomats were dying in the field, Romney pops up with an egregious attempt to politicize the deaths with a flat out lie.
Behind the curtains a more chaotic and rash picture emerges.
The statement from the Romney campaign was initially released by Romney press secretary Andrea Saul at 10:09 PM — but under an embargo until midnight on September 12th. In other words, it was embargoed until September 11th was over.
Then a few minutes later at 10:24 PM the embargo was lifted and reporters were told they could use the statement immediately. There was no clear explanation of the change.
Bear in mind, this was all happening while attacks on US personnel abroad were ongoing. According to a statement released this morning by the White House, the President was told last night that Ambassador Chris Stevens was unaccounted for. Only this morning did he learn that Stevens had died in the attacks that were on-going last night.
The campaign also authorized Romney’s top foreign policy advisor to give a blistering interview attacking the president while the attacks were continuing.
Politics is hardball. Everything is, in some sense, fair. But campaigns are also a prism into the judgment and steadiness under pressure of a person who would be president. This was amateur hour for the opposition campaign last night, reminiscent of John McCain’s rash call four years ago to cancel the presidential debates and the campaign itself to deal with the unfolding economic crisis. There was nothing ignoble or dishonorable about McCain’s suggestion. It just showed a certain rashness that was widely viewed as unpresidential.
Romney’s moment was quite different — rash and shameful. Not worthy of a president. Crass, undignified and troubling on many levels.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.