Towards the end of Mitt Romney’s press event yesterday on developments in Libya and Egypt, a reporter asked the Republican whether he would have issued a false and accusatory statement, during a crisis, if he’d realized four Americans were being killed.
“I’m not going to take hypotheticals about what would have been known what and so forth,” he said. “I – we responded last night to the events that happened in Egypt.”
Now, part of this is plainly untrue – the response also reflected the developments in Libya – but the “I - we” line stood out for me. Romney’s first instinct was to take ownership of the scurrilous attack, but his second instinct was to broaden responsibility – he and his team said this.
Any chance some random staffer made a late-night screw-up, issuing an offensive statement before the facts were in? Apparently not – the New York Times published this fascinating piece late yesterday.
[O]n Tuesday evening, Mr. Romney, according to his staff, signed off on a blunt attack on a statement issued early in the day – before the first protests had happened – by the American Embassy in Cairo. […]
And as an adviser to the campaign who worked in the George W. Bush administration said on Wednesday, Mr. Romney’s accusation that Mr. Obama had invited the attacks because he had weakened America looked like “he had forgotten the first rule in a crisis: don’t start talking before you understand what’s happening.”
The statement that seemed to backfire on Mr. Romney was a team effort, his aides said, written by a group of aides who focus on policy, another that focuses on political strategy and another on communications. Mr. Romney himself signed off on it, they said.
One of Romney’s “senior advisers” told the Times they’d worked on a narrative – Obama’s foreign policy is “weak,” all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding – and the team “felt this was a situation that met our critique.”
In other words, Romney and his aides had a line of attack, they thought events abroad reinforced their talking points, so they jumped – like lemmings off a cliff – before they had any idea what they were talking about. This wasn’t some low-level staffer who screwed up after the senior staff had gone to bed; this was the candidate and his advisors linking arms and failing together.
This is no small revelation. Indeed, it’s speaks directly to Romney and his team’s ability to lead.
James Fallows noted yesterday this was, to a real extent, Romney’s “3 a.m. phone call” – a test to see how he and the most trusted members of his team perform when there’s a crisis. And not just any crisis, but a foreign crisis in which Americans are being killed abroad.
Romney has no practical experience in national security, military policy, or foreign affairs at all, so it’s all the more important for him to use opportunities like these to show he’s capable of being presidential.
And with less than eight weeks to go before Election Day, Romney blew it. Americans got a good look at how the former one-term governor responds when the heat is on, and we got to see him and his team fail.
Now, it’s worth noting that the New York Times article cited above has since been edited, without explanation, but the piece originally included specific quotes from senior members of the Romney team, which warrant serious attention.