Maybe I'm reading an unrepresentative set of reactions, but I get the feeling that every liberal in America thinks Mitt Romney put the last nail in his campaign's coffin with his attack-Obama-first response to protests in Egypt and Libya. And it's not just liberals: the mainstream press seems to agree.
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.Yeah, that's how Romney looks from over here on the left. It also, surprisingly, seems to be how Romney looks to a lot of veterans of Democratic and Republican administrations, and to mainstream journalists who've covered those government veterans.
But I think we're really jumping to conclusions if we assume the public knows that politics should stop at the water's edge and one shouldn't politicize a tragedy until a decent interval has passed and all that. Also, I think we're giving the public too much credit if we expect them to have instantly absorbed the timeline. They don't necessarily know that the embassy statement came out before the Egypt protests started, or that Romney didn't realize people were dead in Benghazi when he went political.
On the latter, I don't think we should assume the public cares. These niceties make sense to Beltway insiders and politics junkies. I don't know if they make sense to ordinary voters.
Americans were attacked in Libya and Egypt by members of a religious faith a lot of the U.S. public has grown to despise, or at least to be very wary of. There was inadequate security in the Benghazi attack, and (as anyone who watched Rachel Maddow's show tonight knows) there have been plenty of signs of a threat to U.S. interests in Libya since the drone killing of a top Al Qaeda figure, Abu Yahya al-Libi -- a Libyan -- in June. So I'm sorry, but the Obama administration has some vulnerabilities on the question of whether there was adequate vigilance.
And I think there's some truth in a brief passage from an otherwise intemperate screed from Walter Russell Mead:
The events in Libya and Egypt -- combined with the bloody chaos in Syria -- make Americans more eager to wash their hands of this tormented region. They don't want to bomb, they don't want to build; they want to get out. Getting out of Iraq was popular; getting in to Libya was not...So the public may be much less sympathetic to Obama's position than we think, and surprisingly responsive to Romney's opportunistic attacks. Or, on the other hand, politically this may be a wash -- the public may not see either candidate as capable of shielding America from harm, but that may mean the public is resigned to helplessness and won't either rally around or blame either candidate. The political consequence of this, as of so many other events this year, may be a stalemate.
Many American voters are likely to support whichever candidate they think will be less likely to get the country more deeply embroiled in the Middle East.
What I can't imagine is a general decline in Romney's political fortunes as a result of this. He violated rules the public doesn't know about; he lashed out in response to an incident that's likely to be making the public at least somewhat uneasy. So don't stick a fork in him -- he's not done.