What was behind Mitt Romney’s unwillingness to use Benghazi as an issue in the 2012 presidential race? The recent book, Double Down, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, which purports to give the most detailed account of the 2012 campaign to date, attempts to answer that question. Halperin appeared on The O’Reilly Factor on the Fox News Channel earlier this month to discuss the new book.
Bill O’Reilly wanted to know why Romney didn’t go after Obama more forcefully on Benghazi. “He was crazy, because he had the facts in the third debate right at his disposal,” said O’Reilly. “Yes, he got bammed by the press, but [Romney] could have hammered him easy.”
O’Reilly was referring to the Obama administration’s failures surrounding the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. The security failures at the State Department also reflect on Obama’s administration and on Hillary Clinton’s leadership as Secretary of State.
“His campaign was telling him the country doesn’t care about this issue,” responded Halperin, who works for both Time magazine and MSNBC. He added, “…Every political person on his campaign said, the base cares about this, but the polls say we won’t win on this issue, you need to talk about the economy.” In the book, they wrote that “The campaign’s research showed (as did Chicago’s) that Benghazi meant next to nothing to the small slice of voters who remained undecided.”
Actually, a review of polls at the time tells a different story. It meant a lot to the independents—in other words—the swing voters. According to an October 2012 NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, 39% of voters said that the U.S. could have prevented the attack in Libya, and 34% didn’t know enough at the time. Obviously, there was room for a little education of the voters here. And an October 2012 CBS/New York Times poll indicated that evaluations of the administration for its handling of Libya are “more negative among likely voters.” Fifty-seven percent of the all-important independents disapproved of Obama’s handling of the Libya attacks.
In the fall of 2012, then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney attacked President Obama for his administration’s initial response to the Benghazi attack. And he got burned by the media, which were more interested in reporting on Romney’s supposed “gaffe” than on Obama’s lack of leadership in a time of crisis. What Romney had said, in a prepared statement the morning after the Benghazi attack, was, “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.”
Heilemann and Halperin at least acknowledged that Benghazi “was a horrendous failure on the part of the administration,” but they argued that “Romney had distracted attention and scrutiny away from the White House. A potentially brutal blow to the president had been deflected by the man who hoped to replace him.”
Then, Romney got burned again in the presidential debates when he accused President Obama of waffling on whether the Benghazi attacks were an “act of terror” or the result of spontaneous protests provoked by the “Innocence of Muslims” film.