Last night, as conservative Muslims enraged by an inflammatory anti-Islam film attacked US embassies in Egypt and Libya, Mitt Romney issued a statement soon to become infamous in American election lore:
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.
The Obama administration, of course, did no such sympathizing. (See Robert Dreyfuss debunk the lie here).
Now, even mainstream reporters and GOP foreign policy hands are shocked by Romney’s crass and inaccurate attempt to score political points from the unrest. NBC’s First Read called it “one of the most over-the-top and incorrect attacks of the general-election campaign.” Romney performed “one of the most craven and ill-advised tactical moves in this entire campaign,” in the words of Time’s Mark Halperin. “I guess we see now that…they’re incompetent at talking effectively about foreign policy,” one Republican told Buzzfeed.
What could have led Romney so astray—to say something so clearly unfounded and cheap? The answer is quickly becoming a familiar one: the right-wing blogosphere. Many of Romney’s most blazingly inaccurate and inflammatory statements this summer can first be traced back to right-wing blogs, to whom Romney’s communications team seems keenly tuned.
Foreign Policy correctly noted that for several hours before the Romney campaign issued that statement, the US embassy press release was “heavily criticized by conservative websites.” Indeed, yesterday afternoon the website Twitchy—a popular creation of prominent right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin—had a post up titled “U.S. Embassy in Cairo chooses Sep. 11 to apologize for hurt Muslim feelings.”
The Twitter account for Instapundit.com, run by Glenn Reynolds, tweeted this mid-afternoon yesterday:
Jonathan Tobin had a post at Commentary yesterday titled “Sound Familiar? Islamists Storm U.S. Embassy and America Apologizes.” At Human Events, David Harsanyi published a post at 3:30 pm titled “In Egypt, the United States Condemns Free Speech.” Harsanyi also presciently implored Romney, a little after 9 pm, to get aggressive on the issue: “i think a little bluster from romney about now would make republicans feel a lot better,” he tweeted.
Bluster Romney did, and right into political catastrophe. The idea that the US embassy apologized for anything is simply daft, and ill-timed, as commentator after commentator is noting today. But it made sense inside the online, right-wing echo chamber—and Romney’s campaign may be stuck inside it.
Granted, his campaign is staffed by neoconservatives who are generally prone to over-police instances of “sympathy” or “apology” towards Islam—but it’s hard to believe any of these experienced politicos would cook up such a flimsy attack as what we just saw. In fact, one of them—Rich Williamson, a former Bush official now advising Romney—gave a detailed interview to Foreign Policy last night about the unrest that never touched on the statement from the US embassy in Egypt. That attack line was straight off the blogs.
And this isn’t the first time Romney has lifted attack lines from the wacko online right: remember, this is the candidate who made a birther joke last month.
Just this past weekend, Romney bizarrely pledged that “I will not take ‘God’ off our coins.” This is something that Obama has never done—and the only basis to believe he has is widely disseminated right-wing e-mail that has been repeatedly debunked by Politifact.com and Snopes. As Politifact noted:
[T]he email has the standard ingredients of an Internet falsehood—sloppy punctuation, an abundance of exclamation points, a plausible story (“I received one from the Post Office as change and I asked for a dollar bill instead”), a request to spread the email far and wide (“Please send to all on your mailing list!!!”) and screaming capital letters (“‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ IS GONE!!!”) .”
Recall also another lie Romney told this summer—arguably the most brazen before yesterday. When Ohio restricted early voting hours to apply only to military veterans, the Obama campaign sued to open it back up to all Ohioans—and Romney asserted, completely incorrectly, that Obama was trying to stop veterans from voting.
This was not misleadingly slanting a policy dispute but rather an outright lie—as Ohio newspapers were quick to note. What gave Romney the idea? Once again, this was a crackpot take on the lawsuit circulating on right-wing blogs for hours before Romney issued his statement. The previous day, the powerful blog Redstate.com put on its front page a diary asserting that “the Obama campaign’s lawsuit says that the state of Ohio cannot treat soldiers differently than the ACORN troops they round up on the streets on election day.” Romney soon made the same charge, stripped (thankfully) of the ACORN language.
Romney seems to have outsourced a substantial part of his communications operation and opposition research to right-wing blogs—and keeps getting burned for it. Will he learn to stop?