"I would point out that we have one president at a time and one administration at a time," President Obama said in June, responding to a critical op-ed by a Romney adviser in a German newspaper. "And I think traditionally, the notion has been that America’s political differences end at the water’s edge.” The president was merely restating one of the nation's oldest remaining traditions of bipartisan comity. The op-ed kerfuffle was, of course, absolutely nothing compared to the Romney campaign's latest break from that tradition. On Tuesday night his campaign rushed out a naked attempt to politicize the death of four American diplomats, including a U.S. ambassador, at the country's embassy in Libya. Before all of the dead had been identified, Romney's campaign blasted forth a press release trotting out his familiar—not to mention false—claim that Obama "apologizes for America."
By morning it was clear that Romney had blundered badly. Even other Republicans were taking him to task (see Daily Meme, below). When Romney called an early morning press availability, it was assumed that he would walk back the crass injection of attack politics into an overseas crisis. Instead, he hunkered down and made matters worse. It wouldn't have been surprising for Romney to unleash his criticism after the crisis has calmed. But his hasty, unreasoned reaction was baffling even to his critics. This wasn't just a political misfire; there could still have been lives at risk when Romney unloaded on the president. Elections matter, but keeping government employees abroad safe—and making it clear in moments of crisis that the nation is united—is a first priority.
It's been clear from the start that a Romney presidency, captive to the radical right, would wreak havoc in terms of domestic policy, gutting the remnants of the social safety net to cut taxes and erase the regulations that keep Wall Street in check. Yet Romney has maintained some air of credibility, of competence. His overeagerness to capitalize politically on a tragedy, ignoring any higher responsibilties, could shatter what's left of that veneer.
So They Say
—President Obama to CBS News, responding to Mitt Romney's foreign-policy flub
Daily Meme: Romney Left to Fend for Self
- Democrats were—obviously—outraged by Romney's response to the crisis in Libya. But Republicans have been quite miffed by their presidential candidate too.
- Former Reagan speechwriter and eternally opinionated Peggy Noonan said, “In times of great drama and heightened crisis … I always think discretion is the way to go.”
- Former ambassador Jon Huntsman said, "This is above all a reminder that politics should end at the waters' edge."
- Indiana Senator Dick Lugar said, “I’m not going to make any comment about the political. None."
- Some Republicans did echo Romney's words, like Representative Howard "Buck" McKeon: "Again and again under President Obama we have met threats and thugs with apologies and concessions."
- Sarah Palin wrote on her Facebook wall,"We already know that President Obama likes to 'speak softly' to our enemies. If he doesn’t have a 'big stick' to carry, maybe it’s time for him to grow one."
- Most Republicans stayed above the fray, though. Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan knew what to say: “The attacks on our diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya ... this is outrageous. Our hearts are heavy. And our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”
- Senators McCain, Lieberman, and Graham released a joint statement saying, "We cannot give in to the temptation to believe that our support for the democratic aspirations of people in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere in the broader Middle East is naive or mistaken."
What We're Writing
- Jamelle Bouie thinks that Romney's no-good Libya response could have big ramifications for his campaign.
- Steve Erickson explains Mitt's foibles by way of character study.
What We're Reading
- Michael Lewis profiles Obama for the new Vanity Fair, managing to shine some new light on a well-worn subject.
- Nate Silver teases out the reasons for split tickets in an Arkansas that has forgotten Democrats exist on the presidential level post-Clinton.
- Romney's hopes for a 1980-style comeback are a tad too optimistic, writes Nate Cohn.
- Buzzfeed interviews America's biggest political rockstar and quipster laureate, Bill Clinton.
- Fall fundraising is a new, annoying chore presidential candidates need to do in a post-public-financing world.
- “Rockin’ Romney Friday Nite GOPizza Parties"—The Onion imagines Romney's latest appeal to young voters.
Poll of the Day
An internal poll shows that Paul Ryan's House seat may be more up for grabs than originally thought. The survey shows his challenger, Rob Zerban, only behind by 8 percentage points among likely voters. Ryan's last internal poll, on the other hand, shows the incumbent up by 25 percent.
For more polling information, go to the Prospect’s 2012 election map.