His failure to prepare for an obvious question calls to mind the famous flub that helped derail Ted Kennedy VIDEO
The fallout from Mitt Romney’s poorly received interview Tuesday with Fox News’ Bret Baier keeps coming, with Baier revealing Wednesday night that Romney complained after the taping that his questions had been “overly aggressive” and “uncalled for.” Now conservatives, who hardly seemed impressed with Romney’s performance in the interview to begin with, are openly mocking the GOP candidate for being thin-skinned.
The interview was most notable for Romney’s petulance. Baier asked him a series of questions about his various flip-flops, noting that “your critics charge that you make decisions based on political expediency and not core conviction,” and Romney responded with evident annoyance, pretending that he’d only ever changed his position on abortion and telling Baier, “I don’t know how many hundred times I’ve said this, too. This is an unusual interview.”
It was a baffling performance. Romney rarely agrees to extended, on-camera interviews and had to expect that his assorted changes of heart — on abortion, on gay rights, on immigration, and so on — would feature prominently in the conversation. As one conservative commentator put it, “Actually, if there’s any criticism to be made of Baier’s questioning, I think that’s it — not that the questions were ‘uncalled for’ but that they were a little too called for because they cut right to the heart of conservatives’ concerns about Romney.” By handling the interview the way he did — and by making it a bigger story by complaining to Baier — Romney has succeeded in bolstering the right’s doubts about him, not defusing them.
The bigger problem for Romney is that this comes just as the political world seems to be deciding that he really is in danger of losing the Republican nomination to Newt Gingrich, who is poised to open significant leads in national and key early state polls.
In that sense, the Baier interview calls to mind Ted Kennedy’s fateful sit-down with CBS newsman Roger Mudd in November 1979. Kennedy was set to launch his Democratic primary challenge to Jimmy Carter (although he hadn’t formally announced it yet) and agreed to an extended interview that would air in a prime-time CBS News special. At the time, Kennedy’s prospects for victory seemed strong; polls showed him leading Carter, whose own job approval numbers were perilously low and whose presidency had infuriated many of the traditional component groups of the Democratic coalition. Like Romney this week, Kennedy was asked a seemingly elementary question that he surely should have seen coming: “Why do you want to be president?” His hesitant, rambling, and confusing response remains famous all these years later:
The impression that this created was devastating for Kennedy, whose campaign essentially peaked before it began. By the end of 1979, he was running well behind Carter (although the rally-around-the-flag effect created by the November 1979 storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran had a lot to do with this too) and it wasn’t until well into the primary season that Kennedy finally found his footing. But by that point, Carter had built a commanding delegate advantage. In the summer of 1980, polls once again showed that Democrats preferred Kennedy to Carter as their general election candidate, but a desperate Kennedy effort to change the convention rules and free pledged delegates from their commitments failed, guaranteeing an easy first-ballot victory for Carter. In other words, if he hadn’t stumbled out of the gate so badly, Kennedy probably could have defeated Carter.
Granted, Romney’s performance on Fox this week wasn’t as overtly damning as Kennedy’s. He was never at a loss for words and was coherent in all of his responses. It was his peevishness — and his attempts to play dumb when Baier suggested that conservatives might doubt his convictions — that attracted attention, and his whining to Baier afterward that extended the story. But the bottom line is that it was a very bad interview for Romney at a very sensitive time. If, somehow, Gingrich goes on to win the GOP nomination, the Baier interview may be remembered as a key moment in Mitt’s demise.
Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki More Steve Kornacki.
More Related Stories
- Photo of the day: Barack Obama at prom
- Anti-Islam backlash in London after machete attack
- Must-see morning clip: Bill O'Reilly visits "The Daily Show"
- Today, Obama defends his drones
- Boehner: "Inconceivable" Obama didn't know about IRS targeting
- Obama to announce new effort to close Guantanamo Bay
- House supporters of KXL received $56m from fossil fuel industry
- Judge tells lesbian couple to separate -- or lose kids
- Obama to address drones, Guantánamo
- If Alex Pareene were a cable news executive...
- Portland's senseless war on fluoride
- Graphic video reportedly shows possible London machete attack suspect
- What economists get wrong about the jobs crisis
- Ted Cruz: "I don't trust the Republicans"
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- Glenn Beck: "The American people have just been raped"
- "Original Coca-Cola had a very small amount of cocaine"
- Corporations accused of wrongdoing win battle to keep identities secret
- Weak, incompetent Democrats blow another one
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
- Cyber attacks could cause the next world war
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11
War Room is our political news and commentary blog, with coverage and commentary throughout the day.