Home/Daniel Larison/Romney’s Fear of Republican Hawks Was Stronger Than His Desire for Political Advantage

Romney’s Fear of Republican Hawks Was Stronger Than His Desire for Political Advantage

One anecdote from the Post‘s post-election write-up is a good reminder why it’s a good thing Romney didn’t win:

Within hours, on the advice of his messaging shop and with the blessing of his foreign policy advisers, Romney approved a statement that accused Obama of sympathizing with anti-American interests in the Muslim world. It was sent out shortly after 10 p.m.

By sunrise the next day, it was clear to Romney that they had acted too quickly. The campaign learned that four Americans had been killed in an attack on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Even to some Republicans, Romney’s hasty statement looked insensitive.

“We screwed up, guys,” Romney told aides on a conference call that morning, according to multiple people on the call. “This is not good.”

His advisers told him that, if he took back his statement, the neoconservative wing of the party would “take his head off.” [bold mine-DL]

So Romney understood that he and his campaign had erred, he knew that they ought to retract the statement, but instead of doing that he defended his initial response and refused to let it go because he was afraid of the backlash from neoconservatives. Even when he realized that it would be to his political advantage to correct an obvious blunder, he and his advisers were more concerned about placating a faction of his own party that would support him no matter what happened. This is a revealing episode that shows just how unwilling Romney was to act in a way that might incur the displeasure of neoconservatives and hawks inside the GOP. As he did all year long, when faced with a choice between rebuffing or deferring to the most hawkish members of his party he chose the latter.

I don’t know just how much Romney’s loss can be blamed on his hawkish foreign policy, but in this case Romney clearly felt pressured to persist in an obvious and politically damaging error just to keep his party’s hawks satisfied. The thing to bear in mind is that Romney decided it was better to placate Republican hawks than it was to do the smart and self-interested thing in the campaign. If that is how Romney campaigned, we can easily imagine how he would have governed.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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