Opinion: A Romney mistake continues to plague him


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It’s been almost a month since Republican Mitt Romney put his foot in his mouth when responding to a questioner in Iowa who noted that none of Romney’s five sons, who range in age from the mid-20s to the late 30s, had served in the military. And it’s become the gaffe that won’t go away, comparable to Democrat John Edwards’ infamous $400 haircut.

In parrying the query about his boys that was posed by an opponent of the Iraq war, Romney memorably said, ‘It’s remarkable how we can show our support for our nation, and one of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping to get me elected, because they think I’d be a great president.’

The comment, part of a longer answer and presumably said partly in jest, gained a fair amount of attention at the time and has periodically resurfaced. But it was spotlighted during Wednesday night’s debate among the Republican presidential candidates when a man at a New Hampshire restaurant where Fox News was soliciting questions told Romney: ‘I don’t think you fully understand how offended my wife and I were, and probably the rest of the people who have sons, daughters, husbands and wives serving in the war on terror, to compare your son’s attempts to get you elected to my son’s service in Iraq.’


Even worse for Romney, his response earned him poor reviews in the debate’s aftermath.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza ranked him as one of the forum’s ‘losers’ (the other was Sam Brownback), writing: ‘We’ve wondered for a while whether Romney can empathize with an audience, and last night didn’t do much to answer that question. Rather than use the man’s comments (and his son’s service in Iraq) as a moment to offer a heartfelt apology, Romney reverted to rattling off his stump speech -- ‘There is no comparison, of course. We owe them our respect, and the sacrifice they make is something we will never forget.’ ‘

More ominously for Romney, he earned scorn from Human Events, an influential conservative magazine. Jennifer Rubin writes today that Romney’s answer showed ‘he lacks a personal touch.’ She goes on: ‘We like smart presidents, but we also like empathetic ones who relate to people as people, and Romney needs to show he has a heart and not just a brain.’

Those who kept their televisions tuned to Fox for candidate interviews following the debate heard Romney use the word ‘apologize’ when asked, again, about the flap by Sean Hannity. And the restaurant patron, in his comment to Romney, noted that the candidate previously had expressed apologies. Still, it appears he fumbled an opportunity to perhaps put the matter behind him.

-- Don Frederick