HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — In the post-debate spin room Tuesday night, Mitt Romney’s senior advisers and surrogates took aim at moderator Candy Crowley as they defended their candidate’s response to a question on the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Libya.
“I thought it was terrible,” former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu said when asked by The Daily Caller what he thought of Crowley’s performance. “I think she had no business trying to be a fact-checker on the stage, because she was dead wrong.”
Crowley incurred the ire of Team Romney after she said that, contrary to the Republican nominee’s objections, President Barack Obama did in fact use the phrase “act of terror” when referring to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi during his Sept. 12 Rose Garden address. Romney had been trying to argue that the administration avoided admitting that terrorists were behind the attack for weeks after the event.
Romney’s handling of the Libya issue during the debate was widely disparaged by conservative commentators, including Charles Krauthammer, who argued that the Massachusetts Republican “missed an opportunity” at a point where he “really could have scored.”
But many of the Romney aides assembled in the spin room placed the blame for the exchange squarely on Crowley.
“She was wrong,” senior Romney aide Ed Gillespie told reporters. “The fact is, the president did not call the attack on our consulate in Benghazi a terrorist attack in the Rose Garden. … He said ‘acts of terror will not shake our faith,’ but he did not say that this was an act of terror.”
Gillespie went on to note that several administration officials, including U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and press secretary Jay Carney, had later tried to duck the question of whether the attack was carried out by terrorists.
“Maybe Obama said ‘acts of terror,'” former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge told reporters. “He never said it was a planned, premeditated, organized attack. Seven days later, on David Letterman, he talked about it being a spontaneous reaction to a movie.”
“I think Candy, whom I have no disrespect for, and the president are wrong,” Ridge said later.
Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer also criticized Crowley’s attempted fact check of Romney. “I think she was wrong,” he said. “Unequivocally, hands-down: she was wrong. … The statement he gave in the Rose Garden was that ‘no act of terror will shake this country.’ It was not specific to the event.”
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell echoed the point, saying that “the moderator” was “flat wrong.” New York Rep. Peter King said that she had “fact-checked wrong.”
But senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom abstained from critiquing Crowley’s performance. Speaking to a small group of reporters, Fehrnstrom said he “did not complain about the refs.”
“I think Candy was dandy,” he said with a wide grin.