JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — For the Romney campaign, the day began with a somber nod toward campaign civility, and ended with some of the most biting criticism of President Obama to come out of its Boston headquarters all year.
At 10:09 p.m., campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul e-mailed press with a statement by Mitt Romney responding to the attacks on U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya.
“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," the statement read. "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.”
The assertion that the administration sympathized with attackers was derived from a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo — before the compound was breached — criticizing an anti-Muslim film that "hurt the religious feelings" of others. Even after coming under attack, the Embassy spent much of the day defending and reasserting the statement on Twitter.
Whether Obama deserved the blame for the Embassy's messaging is a point of debate; what was not was the news value of Romney's harsher-than-expected statement. Still, reporters initially refrained from making it public, because the statement came with a midnight embargo — with the campaign requesting that press not report it until the September 11th anniversary was officially done.
But then, 15 minutes later, the campaign appeared to change its mind, and Saul told reporters the embargo was lifted and the statement could be published immediately.
Saul didn't immediately respond to BuzzFeed's request for an explanation, but one aide did say the initial reasoning for the embargo was "probably" to respect the 9/11 anniversary.
Romney and his aides had spent the entire day carefully avoiding the perception that they were playing politics on a national day of remembrance. They suspended all negative ads nationwide for the day (as did the Obama campaign). Romney began the day by honoring a moment of silence with Chicago fire fighters on the tarmac where his campaign jet awaited. And when he gave a speech to the National Guard Association in Reno, Nev., he made a point of explaining why he wouldn't use the occasion to attack his opponent.
"With less than two months to go before Election Day, I would normally speak to a gathering like this about the differences between my and my opponent’s plans for our military and for our national security," Romney said. "There is a time and a place for that, but this day is not it."
The campaign continued to telegraph that message for the rest of the day, which included no other political events, and nine hours of flight time. Indeed, as the plane bounced from Chicago, to Reno, to Jacksonville, no one from the campaign came back to hold a briefing with the political reporters yearning for news to cover.
An aide later told BuzzFeed it was "an effort to ensure it was a day of reflection and remembrance."
At midnight, the seal broke, and other top Republicans — including RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, former Gov. Sarah Palin, and Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz joined Romney's attack. Obama's campaign, meanwhile, responded fiercely.
“We are 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," spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a 12:10 a.m. email.
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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