It matters what kind of energy you bring to a fight. You can see how much it matters by looking at the position Mitt Romney finds himself in today.
Last night, Romney stumbled upon the news of a fight. Religious extremists had attacked U.S. embassies in two countries, and the situation looked dangerous. Romney decided to get involved, but he did it — and I’m sorry, but there is no other way to say it — by joining the attack.
In the same hour that U.S. officials were defending themselves against armed mobs on the streets, when it was not yet known who would live and who would die, they also had to defend themselves against the Romney campaign. Romney’s attack on the White House and State Department was simultaneous with the mobs in the streets, and to the associative mind, it comes across as three parts of the same attack. This is the worst possible way for a politician to align his energies. He has positioned himself as an integral part of an attack against his own country.
You can tell it is a question of energy by looking at the words of what Romney said. Taken out of context, the statement, though riddled with falsehoods and hinting at racism and religious intolerance, was substantially within the rules of American politics. But it is all but impossible to hear what Romney actually said because of the way he said it.
Intellectually, of course, we know that Romney is not coordinating with terrorist groups, and that his joining in the attack was just an awful decision made in haste late at night when the facts weren’t as clear as they are now, followed by the realization the next day that it was too late to apologize. But the intellectual argument will not help much. In the morning, the person who was loud, angry, and unhelpful while people were dying is remembered that way.
For Romney, this means his political career is effectively over. He will continue to campaign, of course, but it is hard to imagine that he can ever recover to the point where he was before last night. And before last night, he was already trailing badly. Now the wheels have come off the bus. The Washington Post, not known for ever writing off a major-party candidate for president, wrote that Romney’s remarks were “crude” and that his campaign was “discredited.” And all this just because Romney brought the wrong kind of energy to a fight.