Mitt Romney’s remarks that Israel’s GDP is superior to the Palestinian territories’ because of its “culture” — and his subsequent confusing walk back — are putting his defenders in an awkward position.
Top Palestinian officials decried Romney’s comments as “racist,” because they appeared to compare their economy to Israel’s based on “culture” or “providence” while ignoring the effect of decades of military occupation. Romney, while not exactly retracting his initial statement, insisted on Tuesday that he didn’t mean to put down Palestinian culture or imply that they were inferior to Israelis. But high-profile neoconservative Republicans immediately claimed Romney’s speech was exactly what it sounded like to Palestinians — a tough condemnation of their values.
In one awkward example, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin praised the candidate’s speech as proof that Romney was not the “calculating” politician his critics alleged, and in fact “blunt and thoughtful,” giving the Palestinians a dose of hard truth about the importance of capitalism.
“If this is the Romney we’re going to see during the balance of the campaign Obama is in deep trouble,” Rubin wrote. “This Romney is unapologetic.”
Almost immediately after her post went up, Romney told FOX News that he “did not speak about the Palestinian culture or the decisions made in their economy” and that “I certainly don’t intend to address that during my campaign.”
Former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, meanwhile, took to Twitter after Romney’s Jersualem speech to condemn Palestinians for everything from homophobia to support for terrorism, claiming that Romney’s initial remarks were not a “gaffe.”
Even after Romney’s clarification, which was glaringly at odds with the actual transcript of his Jerusalem speech, some supporters didn’t get the memo. Former rival Rick Santorum, appearing on CNN, defended Romney’s remarks by saying the candidate was in fact trying to directly compare the two countries’ values and economy.
“I think the Israelis have copied — not copied, but used the example of the United States as a basis for their country,” Santorum said. “And I think what you’ve seen in the Palestinian Authority is not that. You see a society that is based on a very different set of values and structures and is not as successful. I think that’s the point he was trying to make.”
The CNN interviewer went on to note after Santorum’s remarks that Romney had, in fact, said he did not intend to make that point.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.