The pundits' judgment was harsh. Time's Mark Halperin said Romney's "doubling down on criticism of the President for the statement coming out of Cairo is likely to be seen as one of the most craven and ill-advised tactical moves in this entire campaign." A senior Republican told BuzzFeed's Ben Smith it was Romney's "Lehman moment," a reference to John McCain's hasty reaction to the 2008 financial crisis -- a turning point in the last presidential campaign.Conservative pundit Matt Lewis wrote in the Daily Caller, "The problem with Mitt Romney continues to be Mitt Romney," comparing his reaction to the way Michael Dukakis was parodied as "weak and passionless" on Saturday Night Live. On Fox News, conservative commentator and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan said, "In times of great drama and heightened crisis ... I always think discretion is the better way to go," saying Romney was leaving himself open to accusations of politicizing a tragedy. "I don't feel that Mr. Romney has been doing himself any favors in the past few hours," she said. Though Romney had his defenders as well, the gelling consensus was clearly against him.
I think it's worth looking at Romney's actual words:
"I think it's a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values," Romney said at a news conference in Jacksonville, some 12 hours after his initial statement. "When our grounds are being attacked and being breached, the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation."
This is dishonest -- and a doubling down on dishonesty. (Read this timeline to see the breakdown of events.) But beyond the dishonesty, I think it's worth engaging with the Romney campaign's litany of unforced errors on foreign policy. We often obsess over gaffes, and pretend that they say more than they do. But when you start seeing a series of gaffes, in a specific arena, truths begin to emerge.
Romney has repeatedly employed the apology line (to no actual effect) through his campaign. It is telling that Romney didn't simply attack Obama in the wake of a tragedy. His response to the murder of an American ambassador was some canned applause line from a Tea Party rally. There's a direct line from this to Romney going to Israel, making vague citations to culture, saying he didn't, and then loudly proclaiming he did. The gaffes are no longer simply gaffes. They betray a lack of seriousness, a man greeting a complicated world armed only with a copy of The Quotable Frank Luntz.
It's almost as if Mitt Romney isn't all that interested in foreign policy.
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