So if a presidential candidate gives remarks about a foreign-policy crisis, you’d be forgiven for thinking that in the Q&A held immediately afterward, reporters would ask him about . . . foreign policy. But when Mitt Romney took questions today after talking about the situation in Libya and Egypt, the dominant theme of the questions was all about process and politics. Here are the seven questions asked:
1. Reporter brings up that Romney had a “toughly worded statement last night,” and asks, “Do you regret the tone at all given what we know now?”
2. “Do you think, though, coming so soon after the events really had unfolded over night was appropriate, to be weighing in on this as this crisis was unfolding in real time?” Follow-up: “What did the White House do wrong then, Gov. Romney, if they put out a statement saying they disagreed with it?”
3. “The world is watching. Isn’t this itself a mixed signal when you criticize the administration at a time that Americans are being killed? Shouldn’t politics stop for this?”
4. “Some people have said that you jumped the gun a little bit in putting that statement out last night and that you should have waited until more details were available. Do you regret having that statement come out so early before we learned about all of the things that were happening?”
5. “If you had known last night that the ambassador had died, and obviously, I’m gathering you did not know . . . if you had known that the ambassador had died, would you have issued such a strongly-issued statement?”
6. Reporter comments that Romney is running on his “economic know-how and private sector experience,” and adds, “but now that foreign policy and the situation in the Middle East has been thrust into the presidential campaign, can you talk about why specifically you think you are better qualified than President Obama to handle these issues?”
7. “How specifically, Governor Romney, would a President Romney have handled this situation differently than President Obama did? You spoke out before midnight, when all the facts weren’t known. How would you have handled this differently than the president did?”
Only the last question even addressed what Romney would have done if he was in office. None of the questions asked Romney to give details or be more specific about what he thinks the United States should do going forward.
I’ve long been critical of how few press conferences Romney has held, both in the primary and in the general election. Sure, the media can be biased. But 1) I think it’s good for a presidential candidates to be available to the press, to be subject to tough questions, and to be asked about a variety of matters; and 2) I think that a Republican candidate should prove he can deftly handle biased questions — it’s not fair, but it’s the reality of what he will face as president day after day.
But today’s press conference was really an example of how the media sometimes just doesn’t deserve that access. Let political consultants talk about the timing and tone of the statement. The candidate should be grilled on policy, on issues, on what he thinks is the right course going forward, not politics and strategy.