Mitt Romney steered clear of the Rush Limbaugh controversy until Friday evening, even avoiding a CNN reporter earlier in the day, when he addressed the issue after an event in Cleveland.
“I’ll just say this which is it’s not the language I would have used,” Romney said.
That’s not much of an answer. Romney and his campaign team had days to come up with a compelling response, and could have even used this as a “Sister Souljah” opportunity, distancing the former governor from the extremist wing of his party, but the best he could come up with is “it’s not the language I would have used.”
The most glaring problem with this is substantive – Romney was comfortable with the attack on an innocent college student, but not the word choice? It suggests the Republican presidential candidate was comfortable with the sentiment, but not the specific language. Indeed, the follow-up question for Romney should be, “OK, what language would you have used when attacking Sandra Fluke”?
But there’s a larger context to this that’s worth keeping in mind: Mitt Romney appears to have a courage problem. When George Will criticized the candidate for lacking “the courage of his absence of convictions,” it was an entirely fair point.
Did Romney support the “Personhood” amendment in Mississippi? He didn’t want to give an opinion.
Did Romney support an extension of the payroll tax break? He preferred not to say.
Did Romney support collective bargaining rights in Ohio? He didn’t want to give an opinion on that, either.
Was Romney comfortable with Republican voters booing a U.S. soldier serving in Iraq during a Republican debate? He didn’t want to talk about it.
Does Romney support mass deportation of undocumented immigrants? He doesn’t want to give an opinion.
Is Romney comfortable with Limbaugh’s smears? He’d rather talk about something else.
There’s going to come a point later this year when the Obama campaign is likely to say, “Mitt Romney lacks the courage to be a leader.” And the criticism will sting because it’s based in fact.
Either Romney has the guts to lead or he doesn’t. He had an opportunity on Friday to step up and he blew it.