Mitt Romney may have disqualified himself last night as commander-in-chief by prematurely launching a craven and misinformed political attack.
The Republican presidential nominee broke a self-imposed "no politics on September 11th" embargo to release a statement attacking President Barack Obama for alleged sympathy toward those who attacked the American embassies in Cairo, Egypt, and Benghazi, Libya.
"It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks," Romney said in a statement approved for release at 10:26 p.m. EDT.
The president, of course, did no such thing. Here’s what really happened:
Several hours before the embassies were attacked, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo condemned "the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."
The statement (at 6:11 a.m. EDT) was a pre-emptive effort to quell demonstrations over a satirical video by a group of Coptic Christians that mocks Muhummad.
Despite the overture, protests broke out at the American embassies in Cairo (at noon EDT) and in Benghazi (at 6:25 p.m. EDT).
Once the compound was breached, the Cairo embassy tweeted, "This morning’s condemnation (issued before the protest began) still stands. As does our condemnation of unjustified breach of Embassy"
But the White House distanced itself from the Cairo embassy's statement (at about 10:10 p.m. EDT), telling POLITICO "The statement by Embassy Cairo was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government."
Then, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also issued a statement (at 10:13 p.m. EDT) saying "let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."
Then, we learned this morning that the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans died in the attacks.
Faced with the fact that his attack was obviously misleading, Romney nevertheless chose to double down.
"I also believe the administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions,” Romney said in a news conference this morning in Jacksonville, Florida. “It’s never too early for the U.S. government to defend attacks on Americans and defend our values."
Stand by? The administration NEVER did "stand by" the Cairo embassy statement.
Never too early, even if the attack hasn't happened yet?
No wonder Congressional Republicans, with few exceptions, have not joined Romney in using the tragedy as an excuse to attack the Obama administration.
Yet other conservatives, requesting anonymity, have frontally condemned Romney.
"Not ready for prime time," said a former aide to Senator John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign.
"It wasn't presidential," said a former Bush State Department official.
President Obama fired back at Romney back this afternoon.
"Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later. And as president, one of the things I've learned is you can't do that," Obama told CBS News. "That, you know, it's important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts. And that you've thought through the ramifications before you make 'em."