Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is getting hammered today over his campaign’s combative and politically-charged response to the attacks on the U.S. Embassies in Egypt and Libya. Before we take a look at what Republicans are saying, we’ve laid out a timeline of Romney’s response over the past 24 hours to give you an idea of why people are so upset:
- Sept. 11, 10:09 p.m.: The Romney campaign releases a statement from the candidate, embargoed until midnight on Sept. 12 (after September 11), on the “developments” in Libya and Egypt. Here’s the statement:
“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. 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.”
Romney is apparently referring to a statement put out by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo Tuesday condemning “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” Reports conflict on whether this statement was released before, or during the attacks on the Embassy, but it seems clear the Embassy was trying to quell the growing mob.
- Sept. 11, 10: 10 p.m.: Politico reports that a senior White House official disavowed the statement from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, saying that it “did not reflect the views of the U.S. government.”
- Sept. 11, 10:24 p.m.: The Romney campaign lifts the embargo, emailing reporters that they can use the candidate’s statement immediately. It is not clear why the campaign decided to lift the embargo.
- Sept. 12, 12:01 a.m.: Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus tweets this: Twitter / @Reince
- Sept. 12, 12:09 a.m.: The Obama campaign sends out this statement from press secretary Ben LaBolt:
“We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack.”
- Sept. 12, 1:49 a.m.: Al-Arabiya reports that the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other members of the embassy staff were killed in the attacks.
- Sept. 12, 7:21 a.m.: The White House releases a statement from President Obama condemning the “outrageous attack” on the U.S. Embassy in Libya.
- Sept. 12, 7:47 a.m.: Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin posts an interview with Romney’s senior foreign policy advisor Rich Williamson that took place Tuesday night, while the attacks were still ongoing and before it was known that four embassy staff members had died in Libya. In the interview, Williamson says the attacks are “part of a broader scheme of the president’s failure to be an effective leader for U.S. interests in the Middle East.”
- Sept. 12, ~10:00 a.m.: Romney doubles down on his criticism of Obama, and stands by his campaign’s late-night statement, saying that “we express immediately when we feel that the President and his administration have done something which is inconsistent with the principles of America.” (BuzzFeed has the full press conference here.)
- Sept. 12, 2:07 p.m.: Under growing criticism for the response, the Romney campaign releases another statement, accusing the White House of being “hypocritical” by attacking Romney over his statement. It’s worth noting that, other than LaBolt’s statement Tuesday night, the Obama campaign has been silent on the issue.
The bottom line is that Romney’s response was incendiary — a political gamble that aimed to shake up the news cycle after a week of stories about Obama’s widening lead in the race. And it backfired.
The backlash has been swift and harsh, and it’s come at Romney from all directions, including from within his own campaign.
Romney’s campaign finance co-chair, SkyBridge Capital founder Anthony Scaramucci, tweeted this Wednesday morning:
Photo: Twitter / @Scaramucci
In an interview with Fox News Wednesday afternoon, conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan said that she doesn’t think “Romney has been doing himself any favours.”
“Sometimes when really bad things happen, cool words or no words are the way to go,” she added.
Here’s MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, responding to BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, who wrote a story today quoting several unnamed Republican foreign policy advisors lamenting the Romney campaign’s blunder:
Photo: Twitter / @BuzzFeedBen
And here’s Time‘s Mark Halperin:
Photo: Twitter / @MarkHalperin
The Romney campaign clearly got the message, and is now circulating a memo among its top surrogates on how to talk about the candidate’s Libya and Egypt response.
CNN’s Peter Hamby got a hold of the talking points, which include appropriate responses to media questions.
Here’s a sample from the memo:
Reports indicate the embassy in Cairo released its initial statement before the invasion of the embassy commenced. Doesn’t this show they were trying to tamp down the protest and prevent what ultimately happened, not sympathize with the protesters?
– The Administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions.
– Distancing themselves from the statement and saying it wasn’t ‘cleared by Washington’ reflects the mixed signals they are sending to the world.
– American leadership needs to be decisive and resolute when our interests are threatened or attacked. For the last four years, this has been lacking.
– We have seen a foreign policy of weakness, indecision, and a decline in American influence and respect – and yesterday we saw the consequences.
– If pressed: The Obama campaign is now attacking Governor Romney for being critical of the same statement the Administration itself disavowed. This is hypocritical.
Did Governor Romney “jump the gun” last night in releasing his statement?
– No. It is never too soon to stand up for American values and interests.
Still, the attacks on the U.S. Embassies in the Middle East — and Romney’s related blunder — don’t change the fact that the 2012 presidential race is still all about the economy. What Romney’s response does show, however, is that his campaign is, at best, easily distracted, and at worst, that they are getting increasingly desperate that their candidate and their message aren’t working.
UPDATE, 4:21 p.m.: Scaramucci emailed Business Insider this afternoon to clarify that his tweet was not intended as an attack on Romney. He also pointed us to his latest tweets (the first one links to this story):
Photo: Twitter / @Scaramucci
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