Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney broke off an informal truce on Tuesday between the two campaigns in which political attacks would not be leveled. Romney attacked President Obama over the American embassy in Egypt issuing statements condemning an anti-Islamic movie as protesters gathered outside its gates. Governor Romney accused the president of once again apologizing to our enemies, and for sympathizing with those attacking the embassies.
By Wednesday morning, news had spread that attacks at the Libyan consulate had claimed the life of four American diplomats, including the ambassador. With American blood spilled, Romney’s words came under intense fire from people of all political backgrounds. Republican foreign policy experts were quick to distance themselves from Romney’s statements. Throughout the day, the GOP candidate was hammered in the media.
Romney’s first mistake was a factual one. The US embassy in Egypt did not apologize to those attacking the embassy as the attacks were going on. The embassy put out a statement condemning the anti-Islamic movie before the protests began in an attempt to diffuse the situation. The statements were not authorized by the White House, and neither the diplomats nor the Obama administration were sympathizing with the attackers.
The second mistake was imply a matter of discourse. Across the political spectrum Romney’s statements were viewed as in bad taste. Political attacks relating to a foreign policy situation while Americans are still under attack are a no-no. Romney was trying to win a news cycle and make Obama appear weak. The president was already having a difficult weak after a tiff with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Romney was attempting to maximize political damage against the president.
Governor Romney’s attempt failed, and with the exception of Fox News and talk radio, he was crushed in the media for it. Given the chance to walk back his statements this morning after the seriousness of the situation was clear, Romney instead doubled down. This incident, combined with remarks earlier this year about Russia, have shown a bright light on Mitt Romney’s foreign policy weakness.
The situation has also made Governor Romney appear un-presidential. The attacks seemed petty, and far to political. Some in the media were comparing the events to 2008 when John McCain tried to suspend his campaign to work on the escalating financial crisis. Episodes like this can break a candidate’s presidential image with crucial swing voters and independents.
The debacle could not have come at a worse time for Mitt Romney. Virtually every poll taken in the past week has President Obama once again pulling away in the presidential race. After falling behind in early August, Romney pulled back to a tie after selecting Paul Ryan as his VP. The Republican National Convention did not give him the bounce for which he was hoping. The Democratic Convention, on the other hand, gave President Obama a tremendous boost and the vaunted “enthusiasm gap” appears to have vanished.
In almost every presidential contest there is one big moment that changes the course of the race. The fall of Lehman Bros and the financial collapse was the big event in 2008. The swiftboat attacks in 2004 were seen as one of the driving forces behind John Kerry’s defeat. Romney’s comments on the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks could be the final nail in the coffin for his campaign.