John Sununu, a prominent spokesman for the Romney campaign, says that he is sorry for his remark Tuesday morning that “I wish this president would learn how to be an American.”
I do not for a moment believe that Sununu is sorry about that remark. Quite the contrary, he said what he intended to say and what the Romney campaign had instructed him to say.
After all, in a separate appearance Tuesday morning on Fox News, Sununu said much the same thing in slightly different words, claiming that Obama “has no idea how the American system functions. And we shouldn’t be surprised about that, because he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent another set of years in Indonesia.”
How is that functionally different from the comments for which he apologized?
Later that same day, Romney himself accused Obama of wanting to “change the nature of America,” claiming that “his course is extraordinarily foreign.” If Sununu’s statement had been a mistake and the campaign was truly chagrined by it, there is no way Romney would have publicly reinforced it.
In other words, Obama’s “otherness” was the Romney campaign’s message of the day. Their goal was to not to discuss Obama’s economic policies, but to cast their opponent as “extraordinarily foreign” and unAmerican in the eyes of voters. It is a slightly more subtle form of the lunacy playing out in the Drudge screengrab posted above.
That, in turn, is a sign of danger and weakness within the Romney campaign.
In the last couple of weeks, Romney has come under harsh attack from the Obama campaign, both in speeches and statements by Obama and in campaign ads airing in swing states. He hasn’t responded well. In fact, Romney’s inability to either defend himself or change the subject has brought also harsh condemnation from the GOP right, which is fearful that he is repeating the mistakes of John McCain.
For example, Byron York, in a much-publicized piece headlined “How Did Vaunted Romney Death Star Break Down?“, complains that “the Romney campaign is not displaying the super-aggressive effectiveness it showed in the primaries” against his fellow Republicans. If Romney doesn’t regain “the back-against-the-wall fighting spirit he had in the Florida primary,” York writes, “the Obama campaign will run over him.”
It has become an article of faith on the conservative right that in 2008, McCain lost because he did not play rough and did not fight back. He didn’t raise questions about Obama’s citizenship, about his patriotism, about Obama’s alleged goal of destroying America as we know it, about his ties to terrorists, etc. The conservative right is quite convinced that raising such allegations before the general public is the path to victory, because it matches so closely to what they themselves already believe.
The statements by Sununu and Romney on Tuesday were intended to reassure nervous conservatives that yes, they get it. However, to the degree that the Romney campaign is pushed closer to the lunatic fringe as a means of proving its toughness to its own base, it will lose. Popular as it is among conservatives, it simply is not an argument likely to convince the swing and independent voters who will decide this race. As the backlash to Sununu’s statement suggests, it is likely to do the opposite.
In fact, I suspect the Obama campaign is pushing the Romney folks hard for just that reason, hoping to provoke them to overreact. They know that the GOP base is pushing Romney in that same direction, and they too must have noticed that one of the striking attributes of the Romney campaign has been its inability to deny the right what it demands.
In other words, yesterday’s “slip” may become tomorrow’s campaign theme, and if that happens it will make the Obama campaign very very happy.
– Jay Bookman