Will Mitt Romney's hasty response to the deadly attacks on the American diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya go down as the misstep that doomed his campaign to unseat President Barack Obama?
The Republican presidential candidate came under fire from Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday for politicizing the outbreak of deadly violence in the Middle East, including the breaching of the American Embassy in Cairo and an attack on the American Consulate in Libya, which claimed the life of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other diplomatic workers.
Romney released a scathing statement on Tuesday night blasting the Obama administration for its"disgraceful" response to the attacks. The statement was at first embargoed until after midnight in order to avoid publicly criticizing Obama on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks but then was released anyway. In the statement, which came just hours before Stevens was confirmed to be among those killed, Romney suggested the White House had chosen to "sympathize with those who waged the attacks" instead of condemning the attackers.
Romney was referring to a statement issued by the American Embassy in Cairo condemning an obscure anti-Muslim YouTube video that had set off the demonstrations. But the embassy's statement had been an effort to head off the violence—not released after the assaults on American diplomatic missions, as Romney's statement suggested.
Steve Schmidt, who managed John McCain's 2008 campaign, told Yahoo News that Romney's decision to stand behind his initial criticism of Obama could damage his image with voters.
"For people who are running for president, this is a test where people evaluate their mettle as commander in chief, and the Romney campaign put out a statement before the facts were in that politicized the matter and gratuitously attacked the administration for something they did not do," Schmidt said. "The decision to double down on the initial mistake has put them into a potentially very dangerous political situation. During a foreign policy crisis, you can't build a position on a foundation of politics. … The situation remains serious, it's volatile and Romney is appearing to be very political."
The danger for Romney is that his response to the Middle East attacks feeds into a consensus among the news media that his campaign to unseat Obama is in serious trouble. For the fourth time in recent months, prominent conservatives have gone public with fretting over the direction of Romney's campaign—a panic set off most recently by conservative radio host Laura Ingraham's suggestion Monday that if Romney can't beat Obama then the Republican Party should be "shut down." On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal editorial board piled on, suggesting Romney could lose the election because he's been too vague when it comes to explaining his policies. Read more