Congress got back to work this week on Capitol Hill after a month-long recess and in the GOP caucus’ opening remarks, House Republican leadership waxed on about important legislative issues that the Obama administration had failed to address in the leadership’s estimation.
In a nine minute-plus news conference on 9/11, Republican congressional leaders used the anniversary of the terrorist attacks against the U.S. to primarily criticize what they called prospective middle-class tax hikes, “looming massive defense cuts” and “a lack of leadership” in the Obama administration that threatened the welfare of the nation’s men and women in uniform.
Nowhere in their remarks, however, was any mention of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Perhaps they were still miffed that Romney said on “Meet the Press” Sunday that the bipartisan spending deal agreed upon last year by Republicans was a mistake. The problem is that at the time the deal was approved, Romney praised House Speaker John Boehner for working out the agreement.
Dana Milbank, a political analyst for The Washington Post, said congressional Republicans seemed to be distancing themselves from Romney, “as though he is some sort of political Voldemort,” instead choosing to focus on the party’s efforts with jobs and contrasting their results with those of Senate Democrats and the White House.
Milbank suggests the Republicans are starting to cut their losses early and stop focusing on Romney and start looking ahead to 2016 and the party’s rising stars, including Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Rand Paul.
The latest NBC/WSJ/Marist Sept. 9-11 survey of swing states shows Obama leading Romney by seven points in Ohio, a crucial battleground state, and by five points in Florida and Virginia.
Those kinds of numbers don’t exactly rally the troops.
“This tepidity furthers the impression that Romney is a placeholder for the next generation of Republicans, tempered by partisan squabbles and disciplined by conservative activists, and unwilling to negotiate or compromise,” Milbank wrote. “Romney himself, though a businessman by temperament, had to affect the younger Republicans’ mannerisms to win the nomination.”
It also didn’t help that Romney caught heat this week for his remarks after attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the consulate in Libya, saying 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.”
Later, however, it was revealed that Romney based his remarks on a sequence of events that did not happen in the order he described in his remarks.
Some Republicans initially supported Romney’s response, at least initially, but by Wednesday even some key GOP party leaders and pundits sought to tone down the rhetoric and gently chided Romney for breaking the unspoken rule of politics to avoid trashing the incumbent when the country or its representatives in a foreign nation comes under attack.
Tolerating Romney to recapture the White House, in some ways, has become the political equivalent of being forced to eat vegetables to get dessert. Republicans may support him, but you can’t make them like it.
There are some unwritten general rules in the course of U.S. presidential politics when it comes to criticizing a sitting leader, first among them is that when the country or its representatives in a foreign nation comes under attack the opposition does not attack the incumbent.
The Romney campaign, however, violated the rule.
According to the Huffington Post, “in 1916 and 1940 over Europe, in 1968 over Vietnam, in 2004 over Iraq — presidential politics traditionally stopped at least temporarily in times of crisis or emergency. Candidates including Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and John Kerry all chose to still their partisan rhetoric at least temporarily during such moments.”
Such behavior isn’t designed to protect a particular candidate, but rather, the office of the presidency and to show solidarity as a nation during a critical period.
Romney’s attempt to turn the embassy statement into political hay and recycle the GOP’s oft-recited contention in 2008 that Obama would kowtow to foreign interests may well have backfired.
He accused the administration of sending “mixed signals” after the decision to remove the embassy tweets and also issue a statement condemning the protests.
The difficulty in attacking the president in this way, however, is not only does Romney risk looking bad because of the sloppy handling of the incident, but he has opened the door to the diminishing of the Office of the President of the United States, making it harder for Americans to pull together in tough times.
It was a selfish short-term move that could cost any president down the road.
Even if Romney were to prevail in November, he has established a precedent that the leader of the country has no rights any citizen is bound to respect. His target may have been Obama, but it’s the kind of action that could boomerang and hurt a President Romney.
“There’s a broader lesson to be learned here: Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later and as president one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that,” Obama told CBS News’ Steve Kroft during an interview Wednesday.”It’s important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts and that you’ve thought through the ramifications before you make them.”
Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”