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It’s official—at 5 pm yesterday, Representative Todd Akin’s name was cemented on the ballot in Missouri for this fall’s Senate race. During a defiant press conference Tuesday afternoon in which he compared himself to Harry Truman, Akin said he would abide by the Republican primary results. “The decision was made by the voters of the state of Missouri,” he said.
Now that Akin is the GOP’s only chance to pick up a crucial Senate seat in Missouri, will the party and it’s major outside groups—Crossroads GPS, the Club for Growth, the US Chamber of Commerce and others—return to Akin’s side, as many cynics predicted a month ago?
Each of those groups reaffirmed yesterday that they will not back Akin, and I believe them, for several reasons. The first is a matter of branding. The national party and the major outside organizations are going to be spending heavily in many crucial races across the country. Democrats are already eager to tie Akin to other congressional candidates and the GOP presidential ticket, and a reversal by the NRSC and the outside players would provide a common denominator between Akin and other candidates. GOP Senate hopefuls like Josh Mandel and Connie Mack surely don’t want their opponents saying that the same groups attacking them are also trying to get Todd Akin into the Senate.
The second is a matter of strategy—Akin probably can’t win. Some polls show a tied contest, but McCaskill and her allies have barely laid a glove on Akin over his “legitimate rape” remark and other extreme positions on the premise that burying Akin right away might chase him from the race while he could still get off the ballot.
Now, with the deadline passed, the knives are out: literally within an hour of the withdrawal deadline, McCaskill released a television ad blasting Akin for the rape comments and asking “What will he say next?” National Democrats immediately unleashed an oppo-dump of crazy Akin comments, like when he insisted the National Defense Authorization Act legalized bestiality.
Republican officials told reporters this week point-blank they did not believe the polls would hold after McCaskill and her allies released the post–September 25 barrage of attacks, and they’re probably right. Whether the NRSC and Karl Rove would back Akin if they believed he had a chance to win is an interesting question—but a largely academic one.
But just because Akin won’t be getting their support, it doesn’t mean he’s totally on his own—he's working hard to cobble together a hard-right, grassroots coalition of funders to support his campaign.
The powerful Senate Conservatives Fund, run by Senator Jim DeMint, announced today it will raise money for Akin, and Rick Santorum will be helping that effort. SCF was instrumental in getting Tea Party Senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Mike Lee and Pat Toomey elected in 2010—though, notably, it also helped cost the GOP seats in Alaska, Delaware, and Nevada by juicing up candidates that were too extreme.
Other hard-right outside groups are pitching in too. Freedom’s Defense Fund, run by noted conspiracy crank Jerome Corsi (one of the leaders of the birther movement in 2008, who has more recently taken to alleging that Obama is gay) announced Tuesday it will be buying $250,000 in advertisements for Akin. The group spent $3 million in 2010, and has a history of running inflammatory ads—like the one against Obama in 2008 accusing him of having “campaigned” for a “communist” Kenyan leader who “spread fundamental Islamic law” while “the Christian majority is under attack.” (Note, however, the group appears to be cash-strapped right now, to say the least).
Akin’s campaign is also launching on a small-dollar grassroots fundraising drive, targeting his base of anti-abortion activists and Christian conservatives. That has already raised $600,000. And at least some Republicans will help him raise money—Newt Gingrich is already doing it, and aside from Santorum and DeMint, J.C. Watts and Rand Paul are reportedly going to pitch in, too.
His home-state allies are coming around, too. Senator Roy Blunt announced his support Tuesday, as did the state Republican Party and the Missouri Farm Bureau, which never actually abandoned Akin—it was the only outside group to run ads for Akin since the “legitimate rape” comments, according to FEC records.
The question is whether this will be enough. Outside groups were expected to spend $15 million on the Republican candidate in Missouri, and it’s extremely hard to envision Akin making up for that loss—meaning Missouri will likely be the only contested Senate race in the country where outside spending runs in favor of the Democrat.
There’s another pitfall, too. By leaning harder on right-wing backers for money, he’s only appearing more extreme. (Akin already had to reverse his pro-earmark position to appease DeMint). This is exactly how McCaskill wants voters to see him.
UPDATE: Well, shame on me for giving the NRSC too much credit. Their executive director just released a statement saying: “There is no question that for Missourians who believe we need to stop the reckless Washington spending, rein-in the role of government in people’s lives, and finally focus on growing jobs in this country that Todd Akin is a far more preferable candidate than liberal Senator Claire McCaskill. As with every Republican Senate candidate, we hope Todd Akin wins in November and we will continue to monitor this race closely in the days ahead.” So they may be getting in this thing after all.
As I said earlier, though—this makes it even easier for Democratic Senate candidates to point out that their opponent is being propped up by the same outfit trying to put Todd Akin in the Senate.
For more on Missouri's high-profile senate race, read George Zornick's on the Akin-McCaskill debate last week.
Today at the Education Nation forum, Mitt Romney finally admitted that money distorts our democracy by improperly influencing politicians, and causing them to ignore their constituents in favor of powerful donors. He even called for action to end this problem, saying it’s “the wrong way for us to go.”
Alas, the “powerful donors” that distressed Romney were teachers. His remarks, via Raw Story:
“We simply can’t have a setup where the teachers unions can contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians and then those politicians, when elected, stand across from them at the bargaining table, supposedly to represent the interests of the kids. I think it’s a mistake. I think we’ve got to get the money out of the teachers unions going into campaigns. It’s the wrong way for us to go. We’ve got to separate that.”
By saying massive donations can skew political priorities, and saying “we’ve got to get the money out,” Romney is essentially endorsing the intellectual framework of opposition to Citizens United, which allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts influencing elections.
Apparently, it’s just the pernicious influence of educators Romney is worried about—not corporations. (Note that the AFT and NEA engage in relatively paltry outside spending, and also disclose their donors).
For more on Mitt Romney’s disingenuity, read Ben Adler’s check on the candidate’s miserly donations to charity.
Last week’s debate between Senator Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren showcased each candidates strategy for the final stretch, in what polls show is a very close race: Warren, as John Nichols wrote, smoothly made the case that even if voters like Brown, his re-election could return Republicans to the very crucial control of the Senate.
Brown, meanwhile, telegraphed his strategy pretty clearly in his opening statement. He spent almost all of it hitting Warren over the silly “Cherokee” controversy, and derisively referred to her as “professor” throughout the debate. (At some points during her professional career, Warren claimed on forms or to employers that she has Native American heritage, which is true—though it’s only one-thirty-second of her lineage. But she never used it to get hired under any sort of affirmative action program, and her employers have said it was always irrelevant. So this amounts to a big nothing-burger).
This marks a shift for Brown—instead of attacking Warren’s policies, he’s going to begin attacking her personally. He confirmed as much to Politico yesterday (in a story titled “No More Mr. Nice Guy”), saying “The true Elizabeth Warren is coming out and will continue to come out.”
And yesterday, the Brown campaign released an ad titled “Who Knows?” that focuses entirely on the Cherokee controversy, and implying (using an unfortunately worded reply by Warren to a reporter’s question) that there are things voters still don’t know about her:
This morning, things got even more ugly. Video surfaced of Brown staffers, including his constituent service counsel and deputy chief of staff, firing up supporters at a rally by making “war whoops” and “tomahawk chops,” an unmistakable dig at Warren’s heritage claims. (And, I would venture, something far more insensitive and exploitative to Native Americans than whatever they accuse Warren of doing):
So this is the new, ugly Scott Brown strategy. Maybe it’s the best way to win in a deeply blue state—by making Warren unacceptable to voters. But there’s a flip side: if Brown wants to make this about personality, these unseemly and vicious attacks might end up hurting him more than helping.
UPDATE: Brown told Boston station WCVB that he “doesn’t condone” his staffer’s actions, but amazingly said the “real offense” is that Warren “said she was white and then checked the box saying she is Native American, and then she changed her profile in the law directory once she made her tenure.”
For more on the Massachusetts Senate race, read John Nichols on Brown and Warren's highly-contentious debate.
After months of withering attacks, Mitt Romney has finally (sort of) lifted the veil of secrecy around his personal finances. At 3 pm, his campaign released his full 2011 tax return and a summary from PriceWaterhouseCooper of his tax filings over twenty years, from 1990–2009.
The bottom line: as everyone suspected, Romney pays a lower tax rate than the typical middle-class family—and he seems to have purposely engineered a higher rate for himself for optical reasons. Moreover, by only summarizing the past twenty years of returns, there’s a lot we don’t know.
Here’s a look at what we learned so far—check back for updates.
The top-line takeaway from the returns isn’t particularly good—his 2011 tax rate was 14.1 percent, below the effective tax rate for most Americans despite Romney’s vast wealth. (The middle 20 percent of households paid a 16 percent federal income tax rate in 2010). Most of Romney’s income is from capital gains, which is taxed at a lower rate than income—and Obama wants to change that and raise the rate, while Romney does not.
The returns are sure to underscore the absurdity of someone who made $13,696,951 last year, as Romney did, paying a lower tax rate than, say, a plumber in Memphis.
Additionally, by the campaign’s own admission, Romney purposely did not deduct all of his charitable giving—claiming only $2.25 million out of about $4 million—to make his rate “conform to the Governor’s statement in August…that he paid at least 13% in income taxes in each of the last 10 years.” If he did the deductions in full, he would have paid around 9 percent. (By Romney’s own standard, this disqualifies him: he said on the trail that “frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president. I’d think people would want me to follow the law and pay only what the tax code requires).
So here’s a guy who made over $13 million last year, paying a lower tax rate than most Americans, and purposely paying more to the IRS so as not to seem too rich. If this is what Romney’s campaign wanted to change the conversation to, they must have been really unhappy with what it was.
The 1990–2009 Summary
Romney’s trustee, Brad Malt, has a summary of the summary on the campaign website. (Note that Malt oversees Romney’s supposedly blind trust, which makes it interesting he’s also serving a campaign function here). It says:
In each year during the entire 20-year period period, the Romneys owed both state and federal income taxes.
Over the entire 20-year period period, the average annual effective federal tax rate was 20.20%.
Over the entire 20-year period period, the lowest annual effective federal personal tax rate was 13.66%.
Over the entire 20-year period period, the Romneys gave to charity an average of 13.45% of their adjusted gross income.
This is a really sneaky maneuver. The tax rate averages out to a semi-respectable 20.20 percent, but what does that really tell us? It’s still possible that in really high-earning years, Romney paid an absurdly low tax rate. If he paid a normal rate in lower-earning years, it could still produce that average.
And if Romney did pay really low rates during high-income years, what mechanisms did he use? What sort of tax shelters might he have employed? We don’t know that either, and aren’t likely to find out unless Romney releases the actual returns—something he required of all his potential vice-presidental nominees.
Even before his infamous comments about “legitimate rape” demolished his political standing, even among Republicans, Rep. Todd Akin was the man Senator Claire McCaskill wanted to run against—she went so far as to run radio ads during the GOP primary calling him the “true conservative” in the race. During a Friday afternoon debate in Columbia, Missouri, we saw why.
The first question of the debate was naturally about the “legitimate rape” remark. Akin lamely tried to brush it off, saying “I don’t believe this election overall is about talk” before moving to his boilerplate points. But McCaskill brilliantly used the question as an on-ramp to her fundamental strategy: painting Akin as too extreme for Missourians.
“I think Congressman Akin’s comments open the window to his views for Missourians,” she said. “I believe his view is extreme and out of the mainstream. But there’s other extreme views.” McCaskill then ticked off a litany of far-right, Tea Party positions held by Akin, before concluding with the perfect rejoinder to Akin’s insistence that the election isn’t about talk: “So it’s not what he said that’s the problem, it’s what he believes that’s the problem.”
During that response, and in the hour that followed, McCaskill dinged Akin for the following radical positions:
“He wants to abolish the minimum wage, the floor for the middle class in this great country,” charged McCaskill. That’s true—Akin has said “I don't think the government should be setting the prices or wages on different things.”
“He wants to do away with student loans. Think what would happen to Columbia, Missouri if the only ones who could get student loans were the rich kids,” said McCaskill. Also true—Akin said that federal student loans are “the equivalent of the stage-three cancer of socialism.”
“He is one of a handful, I think there were four or five members of the United States Congress, who voted to eliminate the child nutrition program.” (True, in 2004 Akin was only one of five members to vote against that program in the House, though opposition to it has become more mainstream within the GOP in recent years).
McCaskill also blasted Akin for wanting to “eliminate the Department of Education,” which is true. He also wants to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department, for good measure.
McCaskill concluded the debate by once again summarizing Akin’s radical policy choices, saying things like “Cut veteran’s benefits, but give another tax cut to Tom Brady.” (That’s a particularly sharp, local dig to make, as Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl by defeating the beloved St. Louis Rams, who haven’t been good since. Also, demagoguing Tom Brady is generally a great idea anytime and anywhere).
Akin, unaware of the strategy or unwilling to combat it, actually helped McCaskill out by rattling off a litany of whacky positions most often heard from the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh—saying that Obamacare wanted to use death panels (without using that phrase exactly, but slamming the IPAB board which would “ration care”); hitting the Obama administration for a non-existent plot to take people’s lightbulbs; charging falsely that Obama won’t meet with Israeli prime minister Netanyahu, and so on.
In 2010, Tea Party extremism cost Republicans Senate seats in purple states that the should have won, especially in a wave year—think Sharron Angle’s defeat in Nevada, or Joe Miller’s destruction in Alaska. McCaskill is clearly betting she can re-create that trend in Missouri, and Friday’s debate was a huge help.
For more on high-profile Senatorial debates, read John Nichols on Elizabeth Warren and her race in Massachusetts.
by Nation Washington intern Nick Myers
Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi called for the release of the three members of Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot on September 20, while speaking at a packed Amnesty International event in Washington, DC.
“I don’t see why people should not sing whatever they want to sing,” Suu Kyi said in reference to the group, which was found guilty of “hooliganism” and sentenced to two years in prison in August.
In a February protest performance at a Moscow church, Pussy Riot played a song asking the Virgin Mary to “put [Russian President Vladimir] Putin away.” Suu Kyi added that governments must generally be open to criticism, and that she would like to see the group freed as soon as possible.
Earlier at the event, the husband and daughter of Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova presented Suu Kyi with a bouquet of flowers.
The leader of Myanmar's opposition party and a vocal critic of the country’s military leaders and their record of human rights abuses, Suu Kyi spent fifteen years under house arrest before being released in 2010. She was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal—Congress’s highest honor—in 2008 while under house arrest, and accepted the award at the Capitol on September 19.
Suu Kyi is on a seventeen-day tour of the United States, with stops in New York, Indiana, Kentucky and California. Though her visit was heralded as a celebration of her life and Myanmar's recent flood of political reform, she urged the American government to ease sanctions on her home country.
“The help of friends is indispensable,” she said in response to a question regarding the challenges her country faces moving forward. “We particularly look to the United States because it has always been a champion of democracy in Burma.”
Virtually every political observer following the presidential race put enormous import on the upcoming debates. (“Debates are Romney’s last stand,” reads a typical piece.)
That may seem like a silly way to decide who leads the free world, especially when both candidates have spent months, even years, articulating their positions on matters of national importance. Maybe for some elections, that’s true—but Mitt Romney has assiduously avoided taking stands on various important issues, so the debates present a minefield for the Republican candidate. If the moderators aggressively press him to define a particular policy position on the fly, and he chooses his evasive words poorly, he may suddenly find himself in a huge mess.
Such is the lesson Democrat Tim Kaine presented today in a debate with Republican George Allen in the Virginia Senate race, committing what Dave Weigel called “One of the most obvious unforced errors I've ever seen.”
Debate moderator David Gregory tossed what should have been a softball question to Kaine about Romney’s derision towards the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income taxes. But it turned out to be a change-up pitch, as Gregory repeatedly pressed Kaine to say whether everyone should pay federal income taxes—and Kaine, shockingly, was open to the idea:
GREGORY: Do you believe that everyone in Virginia should pay something in federal income tax?
KAINE: Well, everyone pays taxes! I mean, the statistics that have come out..
GREGORY: I'm asking about federal income taxes.
KAINE: I would be open to a proposal that would have some minimum tax level for everyone, but I do insist, many of the 47 percent that Governor Romney was going after pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than he does.
Openness towards taxing that 47 percent is a deeply foolish position to take. (Evidence: the only one I’m aware of who has even come close is Michele Bachmann). As just about every Democratic politician and liberal commentator has spent the week proclaiming, most of that 47 percent are justifiably unable to pay income taxes because they don’t make enough money—that’s exactly why Romney is perceived as cruel for those remarks.
Kaine either didn’t internalize that argument and was just trying to brush Gregory off (likely), or is actually in favor of taxing low-income people (very unlikely, and nowhere in his tax plans).
But now he’s stuck—unwilling to say he screwed up, and to boldy reverse a position forty minutes after taking it, Kaine and his staff instead are highlighting the “open to a proposal” part of the remarks. While pointing out that as governor he never raised taxes on low-income Virginians, and stating it’s not his preferred policy, Kaine told The Hill after the debate that “It shouldn't be news that somebody wants to go into the Senate that is willing to start with a position of openness and a dialogue.” A staffer told Talking Points Memo
“You can’t issue comprehensive tax reform if you start shutting doors.” (Sure, but you can rule out damaging, punitive policy choices. Does Kaine leave the door open on taxing all of the state’s redheads?)
This wiggling won’t be enough. Immediately after the debate, Allen—who cannily never brought Kaine’s remarks back up during the debate, thus denying Kaine a chance to reverse himself more smoothly—stuck the knife in. “It’s typical of Tim Kaine. His record is always one looking to raise taxes,” Allen said. Within the hour, his campaign was blasting out an e-mail titled “Tim Kaine Says He Wants ‘Minimum Tax Level for Everyone.’” I would guess that television advertisements will be up by Monday.
This was the week Republicans were supposed come off as cruel to the “47 percent,” but Kaine managed to implicate himself as well because he wasn’t prepared for a debate and couldn’t offer policy specifics.
Given the vast number of policy areas in which Mitt Romney simply has no specifics—and given his proclivity towards damaging statements during live debates—the Republican nominee ought to take note. Meanwhile, Tim Kaine may have just blunted whatever polling momentum was headed his way.
The three-member US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has reversed a lower-court decision that would have potentially forced some outside groups to open their books and reveal dark-money donors—an important legal loss for campaign finance reform, but not one likely to have much of a near-term impact.
The dispute traces back to the bipartisan McCain-Feingold legislation, which unambiguously requires groups making “electioneering communications” to disclose donors. This requirement wasn’t knocked out by Citizens United vs. United States, which did vitiate several other parts of that legislation—in fact, the justices wrote that “disclosure is the less-restrictive alternative to more comprehensive speech regulations.”
The reason this has never happened—why Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS can still keep its donors secret—is that the Federal Elections Commission issued a ruling in 2007 that created a loophole big enough to drive a dump truck of oil-company cash through. The FEC said that for “electioneering communications”—that is, advertisements run within thirty days of federal primaries or within sixty days of federal general elections, that mention candidates but do not expressly advocate for or against them—outside groups must only disclose donations if the donors explicitly mark the money as intended for political expenditure. Donors naturally just stopped making that explicit, and outside groups continued hiding the cash.
Representative Chris Van Hollen called foul last April and sued the FEC in federal court, saying that the 2007 regulation ignored the spirit of the McCain-Feingold legislation. Earlier this year, a district court judge agreed, and in July, the FEC said it would retroactively enforce the original disclosure requirements until the lower-court ruling was overturned—which, unfortunately, is what happened yesterday.
But at least since July, the FEC has forced a bunch of outside groups to disclose their donors, right? Wrong.
Anticipating the potential court rulings on Van Hollen vs. FEC, virtually all outside money groups made yet another simple side-step around election law. This court case would have closed loopholes around “electioneering communications” only—again, ads that mention candidates but don’t advocate for or against them. A related loophole around “independent expenditure” ads still exists—those are ads that do expressly say a candidate must be elected or defeated. (Though Van Hollen has petitioned the FEC to close that one, too.)
So ironically, by throwing in a few words at the end of a political ad asking voters to take a position on a particular candidate, outside groups were able to avoid any potential fallout from Van Hollen vs. FEC—which has now been shot down by the appeals court anyhow. Josh Israel at ThinkProgress did the legwork and found that every outside group made the necessary adjustments except one: Freedom Path, a Utah-based conservative group that has run ads praising Senator Orrin Hatch and Mitt Romney. That group has, to date, failed to disclose donors as was required by the FEC since July.
The FEC, as is sadly typical because of deadlocked commissioners, has not yet taken any action against Freedom Path.
This headache-inducing game where reformers play whack-a-mole with outside groups scurrying through innumerable loopholes is unlikely to be solved without some larger strokes: either Congressional approval of the Disclose Act, a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United or breaking the deadlock on the FEC.
For more on electoral reform in the courts, check out Voting Rights Watch's latest on Pennsylvania's voter ID law.
Running for Senate in a deep-blue state—where support for abortion rights has been measured at nearly 70 percent—Republican Scott Brown needs to make it clear that he supports reproductive rights. That’s why he’s telling reporters that he “promise[s]” never to vote in the Senate to curb reproductive rights, and why he has a new ad airing statewide today with this script:
NARRATOR: Scott Brown is pro choice, and he supports a woman's right to choose.
WOMEN: I like that Scott Brown is independent, he really thinks for himself. His record shows that he supports women, he supports families. When my daughters grow up, I want to make sure that they have good jobs with equal pay, and I know Scott Brown will fight for that. I support Scott Brown because I know he wants to get our economy moving forward again. I’m a mom, I have a family, and I know that Scott Brown will fight hard for families.
BROWN: I’m Scott Brown and I approve this message.
Sounds nice. And it’s true Brown did object to the GOP platform language on abortion. But his actual record—touted in the ad—directly contradicts the new message.
Brown was a co-sponsor of the Blunt Amendment earlier this year, which would have allowed employers to deny women preventive care options under the company plan—including contraception, mammograms, pre-natal screenings, cervical cancer screenings. (It was written broadly enough to allow any employer to do this, not just religious ones). This would have jeopardized the preventive health services of 20.4 million women nationwide, and 517,000 in Massachusetts alone.
Brown voted to defund Planned Parenthood last year when he supported House Resolution 1, the Republican spending plan that was ultimately defeated in the Senate. It would also have removed funding under Title X for health centers for low-income women.
Brown may have supported the Stupak-Pitts Amendment to the Affordable Care Act, which would have stripped any funding for abortions by any health insurance product subsidized by the government. It wasn’t included in the Senate version that Brown voted on. But his staff told the Associated Press in November 2009 that Brown would have supported it—though he told Boston’s WBUR that same month that he would have opposed it.
It’s extremely deceptive, then, for Brown to pretend he supports a woman’s right to choose, as the ad claims. Or in the words of said Stephanie Schriock, President of EMILY’s List: “Scott Brown is straight-up lying to Massachusetts voters with his latest ad. Brown does not support a woman’s right to choose—his anti-choice voting record has earned him the support of an anti-choice organization in this very campaign.”
Indeed, Massachusetts Citizens for Life has endorsed Brown in his race against Elizabeth Warren. “We consider him a senator who votes prolife,” Anne Fox, the president of that group, told the Boston Globe last month. (Though Republican Majority For Choice has also backed him).
Brown is also misleading about his record on women’s issues elsewhere in the ad. For example, a woman featured says that “I want to make sure [my daughters] have good jobs with equal pay, and I know Scott Brown will fight for that.” But in November 2010, Brown supported a Republican filibuster of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have required employers to prove that any gender disparities in pay were directly related to job performance. That bill was passed by the House two years ago, but has never cleared a Senate filibuster.
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?