Chris Graham: Tone deaf
This time, it’s the campaign that is underperforming, most recently – and likely most decisively – in the tone-deaf response to the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Even before word got out about the murder of Stevens, the move to politicize the attacks on U.S. outposts in Libya and Egypt by Islamic militants reportedly upset over a poorly-made American movie trailer depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a variety of odd situations was bordering on the questionable.
To double-down on the political criticism Wednesday morning after it became clear that Stevens and three other Foreign Service employees had been killed in a raid on the consulated in Benghazi, Libya is indicative of a serious crisis of confidence among members of Team Romney.
The polls haven’t been kind of late to Romney, who not only had a negative GOP convention bounce, but then has seen Democrat Barack Obama surge to a four- to six-point lead in the polls in the wake of the Democratic National Convention.
Somebody on Team Romney saw the militant protests in Egypt and Libya as a door opening, obviously, and pounced on a statement from the U.S. embassy in Egypt before either of the attacks had taken place that, in reference to the movie trailer, condemned ”
continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims” that was later retracted by the Obama administration.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus fanned the flames, tweeting Tuesday night as the situation was still unfolding that “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.”
Around that same time, the Romney campaign issued an equally odd statement on behalf of the candidate, quoting Romney as being “outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi” and feeling that it is “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 could be forgiven for the mischaracterization of the original statement from the U.S. embassy in Egypt given the fluidity of the situation as the first several hours passed. By Wednesday morning, though, it was clear to everyone that the embassy statement had been released prior to any attacks, that it had not been cleared by State Department officials in Washington, that it had been retracted in the wake of the attacks by militants on the two U.S. outposts, and by far most importantly, that the ambassador to Libya and three other Foreign Service employees had been murdered.
And yet Romney soldiered on, rearranging his schedule Wednesday morning to hold a press conference in which he sternly reiterated his criticisms of Obama, even as Republican congressional leaders joined Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress in expressing condolences for those lost in the attacks and otherwise avoiding saying anything even remotely political.
It’s not likely that this episode is going to do anything to move the poll meter in his direction. It’s less likely that it won’t be viewed after the 2012 election is all said and done for that Romney didn’t do himself irreparable damage for appearing to be so concerned about a misguided misread on an opportunity to score a political point that he efforted to dig up the dead body of a respected diplomat before it had even been buried to make that happen.
The Romney who presided over many a bloodletting at Bain in his days in business would know what to do here.