Is Mitt’s Fox debacle his Roger Mudd moment?

His failure to prepare for an obvious question calls to mind the famous flub that helped derail Ted Kennedy VIDEO

Topics: War Room,

Is Mitt's Fox debacle his Roger Mudd moment?Ted Kennedy during his 1979 interview with Roger Mudd.

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.

You Might Also Like

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

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>