Wednesday, September 12, 2012


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.

Josh Marshall:
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...

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.
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.

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.


Improbable Joe said...

The only way this hurts Romney at all is if this is the final straw for the mainstream media to drop the "both sides do it" theme for a few weeks, at least when it comes to Obama vs Romney. Otherwise, nothing much will come of it.

: smintheus :: said...

You didn't quote Romney. He said that Obama's first reaction was to express sympathy with those who'd attacked the US embassy. It's a vile lie; the public can understand that. He jumped into an ongoing foreign crisis to score political points; the public can understand that it was neither his place as a private citizen nor prudent to shoot his mouth off.

BH said...

I wouldn't say Mitty's done for, no... but I don't think he did himself any good, either. With, finally, even the MSM willing to point out his mendacity and cheap opportunism on this, I do think it'll hurt him. Especially contrasted with a steady & serious Prez who has to be taken seriously, post-OBL, when he promises a meting out of justice. Oh, the lumpenright will dutifully cheer Mitty, but so what? I really think this will alienate a lot of indys that Mitty might have been able to snooker.

Victor said...

No, Mitt's not drowned yet - but the drip, drip, drip, continues.

Yes, the MSM follows meme's. But they also set them for the public.

And what Mitt's campaign did on Tuesday night, and what he said, and how he said it, yesterday in his "Presser," were two more big drips.

He's been unlikeable. And yesterday, by interjecting himself betweet the SoS and the POTUS, made him look craven, opportunistic, and even more unlikeable.

After yesterday, and a lot of the MSM's reaction, I have some more confidence that the voters on Election Day will find Mitt to be "all wet."

Michael Gee said...

The thing is, Steve, Romney IS promising more involvement in the Middle East.

Steve M. said...

Yes, but the old notion that a Republican will clean up Dodge and bring piece, just by dint of being a Republican, still lingers in a lot of voters' minds. I know Obama has the foreign policy advantage in polls now, but I just don't believe that old idea has disappeared.

Kathy said...

I expect the Republican leaders who spoke out against or even expressed hesitation about Romney's unprecedented and arrogant remarks will get back in line soon. After all, winning the election is far more important than the country's foreign policy.

Tom Hilton said...

I disagree, for a couple of reasons.

First, the fact that Republicans were willing to slam him on this is the single most reliable indicator of the state of the race (or more precisely, of how Republicans see the state of the race). If they thought he was winning, they'd have been behind him 100%. His own side has no confidence in him.

Second, when a candidate who's (seen as) running behind makes this sort of attack, it tends to be seen as desperation (the further behind you are, the more desperate it seems). It's possible to attack from a position of weakness, but it has to be done with a lot more finesse than Romney displayed.

Third, it reinforces an existing well-established narrative of foreign policy inexperience (to put it charitably), thanks to a series of screw-ups (in particular, his foreign tour) reinforced by the Thursday night DNC speeches.

Fourth, the President has a great deal of credibility on foreign policy (much more than Romney), and so any attack from Romney starts out with a credibility deficit.

Fifth, "the old notion that a Republican will clean up Dodge" really is dead and gone except among the Republican dead-enders.

Sixth, a Washington press corps narrative is most effective when it dovetails with the visceral impression of the event (and least effective when they conflict). Watch Romney's press conference with the sound off, and tell me he seems like a Commander in Chief. I thought he seemed shifty, defensive, and inappropriately smirky. That's what does the real damage.

Philo Vaihinger said...

NRO is still with him. So are their readers. 90% say he has NOT mishandled the issue. What Republicans are faulting him? Some have been loathe to comment at all but, who has criticized him? Is this a myth?

Steve M. said...

Well, now we see the right circling the wagons around Romney.

Tom Hilton said...

They are now; they weren't yesterday. Nooners, Matt Lewis, even Erick presumptive offspring of Erick; anonymous Republicans quoted by Ben Smith; no backup from McCain, Graham, Boehner, etc. Round-up today doesn't undo the damage of yesterday's disarray.

Steve M. said...

Hope you're right about that.

Mothra said...

So what was with the peculiar smiling? The smiles did not match the context, and they were delayed after his sentences. Very peculiar.

Victor said...

I think Mitt might have Aspergers Syndrom.

Read the symptoms, and tell me they don't describe Mitt to a "t!"