Mitt Romney’s decision to attack the Obama administration’s response to a series of complicated, fast-moving events in Egypt and Libya have the potential to damage his candidacy in a way even a lackluster Republican National Convention did not.
Romney’s criticisms of the Obama administration for “apologizing” instead of condemning attacks on U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt seemed an example of a campaign too eager to slam the president before learning the facts, as Obama said later on Wednesday. It put Romney in the position of having appeared to politicize a tragedy that left an American ambassador and three others dead. Even the most partisan of Republicans, such as Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has declared his No 1. priority is preventing a second Obama term, issued a statement simply condemning the killings of the consulate workers.
“If you look at how most Republicans have reacted, most elected officials, they’ve reacted responsibly, waiting to find out the facts before they talk, making sure that our No.1 priority is the safety and security of American personnel,” Obama said in an interview with 60 Minutes that the White House made available to all reporters. “It appears that Gov. Romney didn’t have his facts right.”
Romney blasted the administration for emphasizing the important of religious liberty instead of condemning anti-Islamic extremists. He was referring to a statement by the American embassy in Cairo on Tuesday that was released before the deaths in Libya that had criticized an anti-Islamic video. The embassy in Cairo had been attacked earlier on Tuesday, and it was believed the attacks stemmed from anger about the video. U.S. officials in Cairo, in a series of tweets, condemned the attacks but also the video, emphasizing American support for the practice of Islam.
Romney appears to have attacked the behavior of the officials in Cairo without being aware of the broader situation in the region, which included the deaths in Libya.
His comments left the former governor, usually cast as one of more moderate members in a conservative Republican Party, well out front in criticizing the president. They brought the political debate back to foreign policy, where Obama has high ratings from even Republicans for his work in winding down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and killing Osama Bin Laden.
The comments made Romney, well-regarded for his smarts, look imprudent. And in a world in which the media is increasingly partisan, Romney’s behavior could receive condemnation even from non-partisan analysts and journalists who swing voters rely on for information.