Last night, Mitt Romney had President Barack Obama exactly where he wanted him. The question the former Massachusetts governor had hoped would be asked was: Why did the State Department refuse extra security at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya?
After Obama responded to the question, Romney was ready. If there was one weak spot the president had that was the freshest on everyone’s mind — the one that was the most embarrassing, the one that would hurt the most — it was why did the Obama administration continue to proclaim that the Benghazi attack was a spontaneous event that was inspired by a wing nut’s inflammatory video and not what we all all know now that it was, a well coordinated act of terrorism. As an Obama supporter, it was the moment that I had most dreaded.
But then something funny happened. Obama somehow came out of the ensuing exchange still on his feet while Romney had just taken a beating.
Today, many on the Right are blaming debate moderator Candy Crowley for the surprising turn of events. Some have called her Obama’s tag team partner. Others his groupie. But all of them ignore the fact that there’s only one party to blame here: Mitt Romney.
After reading the transcript below, it’s clear what happened. Romney was infected by an ear worm, and that ear worm was the phrase “an act of terror.” Barack Obama was the first to utter it, but for some unknown reason, once the former governor heard the phrase “an act of terror,” it stuck, replacing perhaps a phrase that he had used earlier, “a terrorist attack.”
And so when Romney went on the offensive, proclaiming that Obama had not used the phrase “an act of terror” in his Sept. 13 Rose Garden speech, the GOP candidate was unwittingly setting himself up for a smack down. For the truth of the matter was, the president had used the phrase in his speech. From that moment on, it didn’t matter that the State Department had failed. It didn’t matter that the Obama Administration had erred. It didn’t matter that the president had fucked up in how he handled the crisis. The man who just had called the president a liar had a black eye.
To see what I mean, read the transcript below. You don’t have to read it in its entirety below, but skim through it and you will see exactly where the ear worm slips inside Romney’s had and sets him up for a one-two punch.
ROMNEY: Thank you Kerry for your question, it’s an important one. And — and I — I think the president just said correctly that the buck does stop at his desk and — and he takes responsibility for — for that — for the failure in providing those security resources, and — and those terrible things may well happen from time to time. I — I’m — I feel very deeply sympathetic for the families of those who lost loved ones. And today there’s a memorial service for one of those that was lost in this tragedy. We — we think of their families and care for them deeply. There were other issues associated with this — with this tragedy. There were many days that passed before we knew whether this was a spontaneous demonstration, or actually whether it was a terrorist attack.
ROMNEY: And there was no demonstration involved. It was a terrorist attack and it took a long time for that to be told to the American people. Whether there was some misleading, or instead whether we just didn’t know what happened, you have to ask yourself why didn’t we know five days later when the ambassador to the United Nations went on TV to say that this was a demonstration. How could we have not known?
But I find more troubling than this, that on — on the day following the assassination of the United States ambassador, the first time that’s happened since 1979, when — when we have four Americans killed there, when apparently we didn’t know what happened, that the president, the day after that happened, flies to Las Vegas for a political fund-raiser, then the next day to Colorado for another event, other political event.
I think these — these actions taken by a president and a leader have symbolic significance and perhaps even material significance in that you’d hope that during that time we could call in the people who were actually eyewitnesses. We’ve read their accounts now about what happened. It was very clear this was not a demonstration. This was an attack by terrorists.
And this calls into question the president’s whole policy in the Middle East. Look what’s happening in Syria, in Egypt, now in Libya. Consider the distance between ourselves and — and Israel, the president said that — that he was going to put daylight between us and Israel.
We have Iran four years closer to a nuclear bomb. Syria — Syria’s not just a tragedy of 30,000 civilians being killed by a military, but also a strategic — strategically significant player for America.
The president’s policies throughout the Middle East began with an apology tour and — and — and pursue a strategy of leading from behind, and this strategy is unraveling before our very eyes.
CROWLEY: Because we’re — we’re closing in, I want to still get a lot of people in. I want to ask you something, Mr. President, and then have the governor just quickly.
Your secretary of state, as I’m sure you know, has said that she takes full responsibility for the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Does the buck stop with your secretary of state as far as what went on here?
OBAMA: Secretary Clinton has done an extraordinary job. But she works for me. I’m the president and I’m always responsible, and that’s why nobody’s more interested in finding out exactly what happened than I do.
The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people in the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime.
And then a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families.
And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the Secretary of State, our U.N. Ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president, that’s not what I do as Commander in Chief.
CROWLEY: Governor, if you want to…
ROMNEY: Yes, I — I…
CROWLEY: … quickly to this please.
ROMNEY: I — I think interesting the president just said something which — which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror.
OBAMA: That’s what I said.
ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror.
It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you’re saying?
OBAMA: Please proceed governor.
ROMNEY: I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.
OBAMA: Get the transcript.
CROWLEY: It — it — it — he did in fact, sir. So let me — let me call it an act of terror…
OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?
CROWLEY: He — he did call it an act of terror. It did as well take — it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.
ROMNEY: This — the administration — the administration indicated this was a reaction to a video and was a spontaneous reaction.
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