ANALYSIS: The attacks on the diplomatic facilities in Benghazi and Cairo, including the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three members of his staff, remind us how much of the campaign is out of the candidates' control.
Four years ago it was the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy and the financial crisis that threw the campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain into unchartered territory. Obama took advantage and control of the chaos, while McCain wilted.
Romney's full throated criticism of the Cairo embassy's statement suggests that his campaign is going onto offense on this issue, and wants to turn this latest foreign policy crisis into a campaign issue:
"I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi," Romney said in a statement released last night. "It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."
And he's taking the Republican Party with him. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Preibus tweeted around the same time: "Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic." Joining in were other prominent GOP voices, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin who weighed in with her own scathing statement on the president's foreign policy leadership: "We already know that President Obama likes to 'speak softly' to our enemies. If he doesn't have a 'big stick' to carry, maybe it's time for him to grow one."
However, as ABC's Jake Tapper points out, the attacks by Republicans, including Romney's, do "not stand up to simple chronology. The US Embassy in Cairo issued a statement 'condemn(ing) the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims' -- referring to the anti-Muslim movie allegedly inflaming the demonstrators, rioters, and attackers --- but that statement was issued before the attacks on the diplomatic missions." Read the Rest of Tapper's Take Here
In addition, Romney is likely to face questions today about his decision to release a statement on the incidents overseas before all the dust had settled.
Early this morning, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement the campaign was "shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack." (That was before it had been reported that more Americans, including the ambassador, had also been killed).
Moreover, taking on the president on the fight on national security is risky.
The latest ABC News-Washington Post poll showed Obama with a 51-40 advantage on who voters trust more to handle terrorism.
Another unintended consequence: It could expose Romney's own weaknesses and gaps in experience on these issues. The president has an advantage in that he has access to report and information that no one else will get. That puts any challenger at a disadvantage.