One can question the timing and tone of Mitt Romney’s statement last night. One can note he wasn't as fluent and clear as he might have been at his press conference this morning. Still, the fact remains that the events of September 11, 2012, represent a big moment for the country. Romney is right to sense this, and to seize on this moment as an occasion to explain the difference between his foreign policy and President Obama’s. He’s right to reject the counsel of the mainstream media, which is to keep quiet and give President Obama a pass.
Mark Halperin tweeted this morning, “Unless Mitt has gamed crisis out in some manner completely invisible to Gang of 500, doubling down=most craven + ill-advised move of ‘12.” Halperin couldn't be more wrong. Romney is right to bring home the weakness of the Obama administration, exemplified in the disgraceful statement issued yesterday, September 11, by the American embassy in Cairo—a statement, I believe, that would have to have been cleared by the State Department.
I'd add this: Romney deserves credit for emphasizing today that the events in Cairo and Benghazi remind us of the need for American leadership. He refused to cater to what must be a widespread (and understandable, if short-sighted) ‘let's just get out of that crazy part of the world’ sentiment among the public. He spoke in the tradition of conservative internationalism.
So, so far, I believe, pretty much so good. The question is, what comes next?
Will Romney follow up this moment with sober foreign policy statements and substantive speeches? Will he put behind him once and for all two misconceptions that have bedeviled his campaign—that foreign policy is a distraction, and that, when Romney does dip into foreign policy, it's enough simply to take swipes at Obama? Will Romney seize the moment to spend time with some of his serious foreign policy advisers—even if to do so he has to cancel a trip to a swing state or (gasp!) a fundraiser—in order really to think through the meaning of these events, and prepare serious, presidential-level responses?
If Romney can prove both strong and thoughtful on foreign policy over the next few days, it could be an inflection point in the presidential campaign.