Friday, September 14, 2012

World leader pretend 2.0


ON WEDNESDAY, at a press conference in Jacksonville, Fla., bearing what greatly resembled the countenance of a beaten man, Willard Mitt Romney went before the cameras, doubled down on a breathtakingly maladroit statement he issued the night before, and provided for historians unborn the distilling moment when — in all growing viral, political and statistical probability — he lost his second bid for the presidency of the United States.

By now you know the backstory: Protests occurred in Libya and Egypt ostensibly sparked by a YouTube video of a movie trailer that defamed the Prophet Mohammed, a video believed to have originated with an American in California.

The United States embassy in Cairo released a statement at 6:17 a.m. ET on Sept. 11, saying, "The embassy condemns the continuing efforts by 
misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."

At 6:25 p.m. on Sept. 11, a State Department spokeswoman confirmed that the protest in Libya had taken a violent turn with the death of John Christopher Stevens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, and three other American citizens.

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But Romney, desperate to claw back something like an advantage in his increasingly problematic pursuit of the White House, weighed in with a statement on the situation, one that blamed the Obama administration for siding with the protesters.

At 10:10 p.m., the Romney campaign emailed a statement to media: “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.”

And the next day, rather than admitting the mistake of jumping to conclusions in the wake of the deeper tragedy his e-mail completely missed, Romney toughed it out at the Jacksonville newser, insisting that his was the right response.

“I don’t think we ever hesitate when we see something which is 
a violation of our principles,” he said. “We express immediately when we feel that 
the president and his administration have done something which is inconsistent with the principles of America.”

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Kasie Hunt of The Associated Press capably distilled the timeline of events:

“One Republican official advising Romney's campaign on foreign policy and national security issues painted a picture of a Romney campaign more focused on ensuring Romney's evening statement made it into morning news stories than on waiting for details about what had happened.

“This official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering Romney's campaign, said that as word of violence spread, campaign aides late Tuesday watched tweets coming out of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that were criticizing the filmmaker rather than condemning the attackers, and saw an opportunity to criticize Obama.

“It wasn't until Wednesday morning, when the U.S. confirmed the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, that Romney's team recognized the severity of the situation — and that, the night before, it had opened itself up to criticism for politicizing a diplomatic crisis.

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THE BLOWBACK was immediate, and the most bipartisan experience of this campaign year. A highly-placed Republican foreign-policy expert told BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith that "[t]hey were just trying to score a cheap news cycle hit based on the embassy statement and now it’s just completely blown up." This source called the Romney statement an "utter disaster" and a "Lehman moment" — a reference to when John McCain sabotaged his 2008 presidential prospects as the depth of the financial crisis precipitated by the collapse of Lehman Brothers became known.

“It wasn't presidential of Romney to go political immediately,” a former Bush State Department official told BuzzFeed. “A tragedy of this magnitude should be something the nation collectively grieves before politics enters the conversation.”

On MSNBC, Joy Reid, managing editor of TheGrio, said: “[T]he American people, if nothing else, they look for a lot of 
intangible qualities in a potential president and dignity and decency are two of them. And I think at this point, Mitt Romney has sacrificed both.”

Maybe. Dignity? Some will say Romney can’t lose what he never had. This, of course, wasn’t the first time Mitt Romney has demonstrated an astonishing ineptitude on the world stage. You can take your pick from among four or five examples of bad manners and fecklessness on display earlier in the year:

Dissing the United Kingdom while attending the London Olympics. Mangling history in Poland. In Israel, offering a profound misreading of the life of the Middle East that insulted Israelis and Palestinians alike. Embarrassingly injecting himself into the administration’s handling of the crisis surrounding Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng.

And now this.

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TEAM ROMNEY and its supporters in the Republican camp have spent the last 48 hours or so furiously pushing back against the damage done. But there’s no way for the campaign to spin this into insignificance. This wasn’t a gaffe to be downplayed or minimized; this was a test of presidential character, a gauge of Romney’s readiness to be a world leader, and Romney’s was an epic fail, a sadly revelatory event that will dog him for the next 54 days.

Because here’s the thing, here’s what some analysts and wonk-worshippers and the Romney brain trust refuse to accept when they insist that the Romney campaign can still transform itself, rescue itself in the debates in October, or with a flurry of nonstop TV ads as likely to anger the people they’re aimed at as they are likely to change their minds:

The race is where it is for a reason. Everything Mitt Romney has done to this point has led us to this point.

And where things stand as a result of the Romney presidential campaign playing itself out organically, on the stump over these many months, almost certainly won’t be overturned by any deus ex machina event, any tactical epiphany that suddenly shifts the dynamic of the race in Romney’s favor.

If that were even remotely possible, it would have happened by now.

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That’s not to suggest that the unexpected won’t happen again between now and Nov. 6. (Events in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere just proved that.) It is to say that, to this point, the Romney campaign is subject to the momentum it’s already created with the actions it’s already taken. Right now, Romney’s presidential bid is as much a captive of the laws of physics as it’s in thrall to politics and strategy and round-the-clock ads on TV.

Minds are being made up, and it’s not hard to figure out why. From a businessman’s point of view, Romney himself might understand what seems to be a prevailing school of thought: If a company’s going through a fiscal crisis, and the current leadership of the company has at least stopped the bleeding, stabilized the share price and restored some measure of shareholder confidence … in a situation like that, the last thing you do is replace the leadership with people who don’t know their way around the company.


Romney’s spent a lot of time this year running away from his experience as governor of Massachusetts, directing the affairs of 2 percent of the country he presumes to lead. And more recently, to some extent, he’s been running away from his experience in running a company (Bain & Co.). What’s left to qualify him to be president of the United States? What makes him more qualified for that job than the man already doing that job?

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IT’S A WASTE of time expecting everything for Romney to magically change, believing that all at once the scales will fall from the candidate’s eyes, he’ll find his mojo and suddenly become the candidate he should have been for the last fifteen months.

First, that almost certainly won’t happen. Second, and more important: nobody’d believe it anyway. Why should we? We’ve seen so many iterations of Romney on so many issues, so many positions and counter-positions, the popular inclination would be to think any road-to-Damascus transformation he makes now would be just one more shake of the Etch a Sketch.

As the days get shorter, we’re approaching a time for hunkering down. For deciding. As the nation gets ready to do just that, we can assume that, quietly but certainly, the Romney campaign is preparing for the last act in an improbable political saga, and the candidate may be privately prepping for what may be, barring a rollback of the political tide, his next leadership position: President of the Romney estate in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.

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Oh yeah — In a ham-fisted attempt to defend Romney in this current campaign debacle, his foreign-policy adviser, Richard Williamson, said this on Wednesday: “Ty Cobb was the greatest hitter of all time and he batted about .355 and he still is the greatest hitter. There isn’t something in my 63 years I couldn’t have done better except con my wife into marrying me."

On top of everything else, Team Romney couldn’t even get that right in the candidate’s defense.

According to the Baseball Almanac, Ty Cobb’s lifetime batting average was .366.

Image credits: Romney: Jim Young/Reuters. Stevens: State Department (public domain). AP logo: © 2012 The Associated Press. Romney II; Charles Dharapak/Associated Press. Electoral vote forecast: © 2012 The New York Times Company. 

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