PRESIDENT OBAMA: The day after the attack [in Benghazi, Libya], Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror. And I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime. And then a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families.
And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander in chief.
MS. CROWLEY: Governor, if you want to reply just quickly to this, please.
MR. ROMNEY: Yeah, I ó I certainly do. I certainly do. I ó I think it’s interesting the president just said something which is that on the day after the attack, he went in the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror. You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed.
MR. ROMNEY: Is that what you’re saying?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed, Governor.
MR. ROMNEY: I ó I ó I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Get the transcript.
MS. CROWLEY: It ó he did in fact, sir.
This was perhaps the most damaging moment in any of the first three debates, and the damage fell entirely on Romney. Obama had already made a strong statement, taking responsibility as president for the deaths of Americans in Benghazi, pledging to bring the attackers to justice, and shaming Romney for trying to make political hay out of a terror attack.
What Romney did next, however, he did to himself. Romney, buying into right-wing echo chamber logic, immediately tried to get a “gotcha” moment, claiming Obama never called the Benghazi attack a terror attack. Obama could have gotten heated, or argued it. Instead, he let Romney make the accusation, let Romney try to entrap him. He didn’t short-circuit the attack by rising to the bait; he let Romney state that Obama had never said such a thing, when in fact, he clearly had.
In the end, Romney ended up getting called out by the moderator, fact-checked mid-debate. Whatever point Romney had been trying to make evaporated in the moment. Obama looked strong, resolute, presidential. Romney looked petty, inaccurate, and small. One of Obama’s most devastating attacks of the night was a classic rope-a-dope: let your opponent beat himself.
Image Credit: Donkey Hotey
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