Republicans Blame the Ref for Romney's Libya Gaffe

Mitt Romney and Republicans blame Candy Crowley's fact check on Libya for the candidate's poor performance in Tuesday's presidential debate.

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If you don't like the score, blame the refs.

That appears to be the response, or strategy, of Republicans and their allies in the political media world who have determined that the reason President Barack Obama bested Mitt Romney in the second debate was because the president got some sort of assist from moderator Candy Crowley. And what was Crowley's unforgivable crime? Holding a candidate to the facts in real time.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

The issue was the attacks on U.S. personnel in Benghazi, Libya, an issue that on paper should have been Obama's weak point. The administration has been fielding criticism over what it knew and when about what was behind the attacks—an escalation of a demonstration over an offensive anti-Muslim video, or a premeditated attack. Romney thought he had the trump card when Obama said he had called the episode an "act of terror" during a Rose Garden appearance the day after the attacks. Romney's eyebrows raised to cartoon-character dimensions, and he asked Obama again to repeat that fact. Obama, poker-faced, said, "Please proceed, governor." That should have been Romney's first clue not to go down that road. When your opponent is clearing the brush from the path, maybe you shouldn't go there.

In fact, Obama had indeed called the attack an "act of terror," or more specifically, said the United States would not stand for "acts of terror." The only way to conclude that the president was not talking about Benghazi would be to assume he had stuck in some ad-hoc comment about something else—such as the 9/11 attacks, and a commitment to get the man who masterminded them. Oh, wait—they did get that guy.

[Take the U.S. News Poll: Is Hillary Clinton To Blame for the Libya Terrorist Attack?]

When Obama and Romney were in a he-said-he-said fight about it on the stage—leaving viewers who don't follow the news closely to simply believe the man they like better, irrespective of actual facts—Crowley quickly, and without interrupting the flow of the debate, corrected the record, pointing out that Obama had indeed used that language the day after the attacks.

And this, Romney's supporters in the media and political world argue, was interference by the ref. One even went so far to say that the time for fact-checking was later—not during the debate.

What good is that? No good at all, except that it allows candidates (any candidate, in either party) to simply get up and say whatever he or she wants, knowing that only a fraction of the people who heard it will listen later to the analysis of whether or not it was true.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

It's understandable that candidates get frustrated with outside questioning or anything that interferes with their respective messages. The worst influence is that of the so called "super PACs," which are spending so much money that they are taking control of the image and messages of the campaigns—even the campaigns of candidates the super PAC chiefs want re-elected. But that's not the same as being forced, in real time, to account for misstatements—especially when the debate on the issue has devolved into a yes-I-did-no-you-didn't schoolyard fight.

When you compete, you have to accept some outside monitoring and accountability standards. Sometimes it's not fair (if I were Paul Ryan, I'd be fantasizing about winning the White House so I could keep Gitmo open merely to punish the replacement NFL refs who denied the Green Bay Packers a rightful victory earlier in the season). But Crowley was fair, and she was doing her job—which is not to let anyone say anything they want, but to keep some accountability in a world where people often will believe what they want to believe. If you can't take the refs, get out of the game.

  • Read the U.S. News Debate: Who Won the Second Debate Between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama?
  • Read Peter Roff: On Libya, Hillary Clinton Throws Herself Under the Bus for Obama
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