Opinion Brief

Mitt Romney's botched Libya response: Could it cost him the election?

Almost everyone agrees: Romney flubbed his reaction to the anti-American violence in Egypt and Libya. Come November, will voters hold it against him?

On Wednesday, President Obama jabbed Mitt Romney's strikingly rapid and political criticism of the White House's handling of violence at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Romney is prone to "shoot first and aim later," the president told CBS News. But mostly, the relatively restrained Obama "observed a cardinal rule of politics," says Reuters' Andy Sullivan: "Don't interfere when your opponent is committing political suicide." After Romney suggested late Tuesday and again early Wednesday that Obama had acted disgracefully by somehow sympathizing with and apologizing to the rioters, few Republicans followed their nominee's lead, and foreign policy experts in both parties were pretty unanimous that Romney's response was "hasty and off-key," says Ben Smith at BuzzFeed. One "very senior Republican foreign policy hand" went so far as to call Romney's reaction his "Lehman moment," referring to Sen. John McCain's perceived-as-erratic reaction to the financial meltdown in 2008. Could Romney's response cost him the election?

Buh-bye, Mitt: It was bad enough that Romney launched a despicable and dishonest late-night attack on Obama while riots were ongoing and Americans were in harm's way, says Joan Walsh at Salon. But doubling down on his mendacious slur the next morning and "making cheap political points out of the killings of four American public servants" — that's just not presidential. Let's have a debate on Obama's foreign policy, by all means. But all Romney is offering is "cruel opportunism." Decent Americans find that repulsive, and "that's why he'll never be president."
"Mitt Romney will never be president"

This is just a momentary blip: Many Republicans are baffled by Romney's comments, but they're not panicking, say Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake at The Washington Post. In fact, Team Romney may be right that this is just a Beltway story, and that "the takeaway from the Libya flap for your average swing voter in Ohio was that Romney was standing up for America." But the big reason this won't cost Romney much is that "foreign policy ain't going to decide this election." It's the economy, stupid.
"Is Mitt Romney panicking?"

At least give Romney credit for consistency: Whether or not you agree with Romney's critique — that Obama was apologizing for American values — it "synced up neatly with what he's been saying about foreign policy for years," says David Weigel at Slate. In that sense, Romney just gave us "an accidental treatise on foreign policy" — no small thing for a details-averse candidate. Maybe Romney bungled his timing on the statement, or should have "said something innocuous about how all Americans were watching the situation," but then "we wouldn't have gotten an honest view of Romney's position."
"The accidental tourist"

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

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