In 2012, if he’d had half the nerve Donald Trump has, Mitt Romney would have been elected president of the United States.
The turning point in Romney’s fortunes occurred in the second of three presidential debates. Having demolished the myth of Obama’s genius in the first debate, Romney could have sealed the deal in the second.
The media’s eagerness to protect Obama’s candidacy was never more obvious than in that debate, the town hall-style tag team event infamously hosted by CNN heavyweight Candy Crowley.
The evening’s most notorious exchange began inauspiciously. A woman in the audience asked in regards to the Benghazi consulate attack weeks earlier, “Who denied enhanced security and why?”
The question went to President Obama, and he launched into a well-rehearsed set piece about how he was handling the issue.
Romney responded much as one would expect him to respond, criticizing the White House response to the attack, especially Obama’s Las Vegas fundraising trip a day afterward, and Obama’s Mideast policy in general.
It was at this point that the debate, certainly from appearances, took a turn for the pre-arranged. It was now 70 minutes on. Crowley conceded a shortage of time and an excess of audience questions.
Nevertheless, instead of moving on to that next question, Crowley asked a question of her own. Even before she began to ask, however, Obama was strolling confidently toward Crowley as though he knew what was going to happen next.
The question involved Secretary of State Clinton’s taking responsibility for embassy security. Asked Crowley, “Does the buck stop with the secretary of state?”
Obama was more than ready for this one. “Secretary Clinton has done an extraordinary job, but she works for me,” said he forcefully. “I’m the president, and I’m always responsible.”
From there Obama launched into a pitch-perfect, if thoroughly dishonest, defense of his own role in the affair:
“The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we were going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror, and I also said we are going to hunt down those who committed this crime.”
Obama did not throw the “act of terror” line away. He said it clearly and defiantly as though he knew he could get away with it.
Feigning outrage, Obama then told of how he manfully greeted the caskets as they arrived at Andrews Air Force Base and how he was offended at the very suggestion that anyone on his “team” would “play politics or mislead when we have lost four of our own.”
Sensing an opening, Romney moved in for the kill over Crowley’s protestations that he respond “quickly.”
Romney looked straight at Obama, raised his eyebrows quizzically, and asked, “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 are saying?”
Now back on his stool, Obama answered uncomfortably, “Please proceed. Please proceed, governor.”
Romney turned back to Crowley and said that he just wanted to get Obama’s response on record. With the camera still on Romney, the TV audience heard Obama say off camera, “Get the transcript.”
The camera then moved to a wide-shot and showed Crowley waving a piece of paper. Many viewers believed that to be the transcript and wondered how Crowley just happened to have it.
“He did in fact, sir, call …” said Crowley hesitantly to Romney, “so let me call it an act of terror.”
“Can you say that a little louder, Candy,” said a suddenly revived Obama while the Obama fans in the audience, Michelle included, cheered in violation of the rules.
“He did call it an act of terror,” said Crowley, consummating the most egregious act of real-time media malpractice in recent memory.
Crowley then stumbled through a temporizing bit of nonsense about the two weeks it took for the “whole idea” to be revealed.
When Romney then tried to discuss Ambassador Susan Rice’s appearance on five Sunday talk shows, Obama walked into his space and started talking over him.
At that point, Crowley said, “I want to move you on and people can go to the transcripts.” She then turned quickly to an audience member who wanted to talk about AK-47s, “a question we hear a lot,” said Crowley preposterously. And that was that.
Trump would never have let Crowley get away with this treachery. Romney and his team did. In the final debate, on foreign policy, Romney failed to call Obama out on his lie or to denounce the media that enabled it.
Now, confusing getting screwed with being loved, Romney has crawled into bed with these very same people.
Don’t expect fidelity, Mitt. This ain’t Utah.