Mitt Romney's handling of the deadly unrest in the Middle East caused considerable criticism last week, but the story isn't quite over yet.
On Friday, Richard Williamson, a top Romney foreign policy adviser, insisted that anti-American protests wouldn't happen in the Middle East and North Africa if Romney were president -- because Muslim demonstrators would have too much "respect" for "American resolve." This morning, the Obama campaign called the comments "absolutely outrageous."
I'm hard pressed to disagree. Indeed, though Romney's scurrilous remarks last week generated something of a firestorm, it's arguably premature to say the damage has been done and it's time to move on. Nick Kristof's column over the weekend was brutal: "Diplomacy is a minefield, and Mitt Romney spent the last week blowing up his foreign policy credentials to be president. He raised doubts about his capacity to deal with global crises, and we were left hoping that if that 3 a.m. call ever went to him, he'd have set up call forwarding. The essential problem is that every time Romney touches foreign policy, he breaks things."
John Heilemann had a worthwhile piece of his own.
Here was America under attack, with four dead on foreign soil. And here was Romney, defiantly refusing to adopt a tone of sobriety, solemnity, or seriousness, instead attempting to score cheap political points, doubling down on his criticism from the night before that the Obama administration had been "disgraceful" for "sympathiz[ing]" with the attackers -- criticism willfully ignoring the chronology of events, the source of the statement he was pillorying, the substance of the statement, and the circumstances under which it was made. [...]
"This is worse than a Lehman moment," says a senior GOP operative. "McCain made mistakes of impulsiveness, but this was a deliberate and premeditated move, and it totally revealed Romney's character; it revealed him as completely craven and his candidacy as serving no higher purpose than his ambition."
And that's exactly why I continue to believe last week was so critically important. Romney has faced various tests of campaign competence and message coherence, just as he's been confronted with important questions about his judgment or foreign policy acumen. But as a lengthy campaign nears its completion, this was the nation's most obvious opportunity to see whether Romney -- the man, not the candidate -- can respond with grace when a crisis hits.
It was a test to determine what kind of person he is, and "it revealed him as completely craven and his candidacy as serving no higher purpose than his ambition."
Candidates and campaigns have strategies to bounce back from various gaffes and missteps, but this was something else altogether, and recovery may not be a realistic option.