It was exactly 11 years ago this week when Mitt Romney, during his first presidential campaign, was asked at an event in Iowa about his five adult sons and their decision not to serve in the military. "My sons are all adults and they've made decisions about their careers and they've chosen not to serve in the military and active duty and I respect their decision in that regard," he responded.
And if Romney had stopped there, he probably would've been fine. But he then quickly transitioned to a sour note. "One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping me get elected because they think I'd be a great president," the Republican added.
It sounded as if Romney was drawing a parallel, suggesting that military service and helping his campaign were comparable approaches to public service.
This year, Rep. Andy Barr (R) is running for re-election in Kentucky's 6th congressional district, where he'll face retired Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, the first woman to fly an F-18 (such as the one shown in the above photo) in combat. The incumbent congressman told the New York Times:
"We both served our country," Mr. Barr said. "I've served in a position where ideas matter. My opponent has served her country in the military, where execution matters."
It's a subjective question, of course, but this probably isn't as bad as Romney's quote from 2007. It is, however, an example of what not to say when running against a combat veteran with an inspirational personal story.
Because not only is there a qualitative difference between political service and military service, but as most veterans would probably attest, "ideas matter" in the military, too.
The comment is, however, emblematic of a GOP incumbent in a red state who appears more than a little anxious about his chances this year. Barr launched an attack ad against McGrath last week, complaining about, among other things, the fact that she describes herself as a "feminist."
Billy Piper, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also of Kentucky, told the New York Times, "That hit, in the middle of August? You've got to have numbers that make you nervous."
For her part, McGrath, standing alongside a fighter jet, asked Barr in a response ad, "Seriously? Is that all you got?"