Washington, Oct. 20: The big question at the final debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on Monday will not be asked of either of the candidates but relates to Romney’s son’s presence in Boca Raton, Florida, where the debate will take place.
Tagg Romney, one of the five sons of the Republican candidate, said the day after the second presidential debate last Tuesday that when he heard Obama calling his father a liar, Tagg wanted to “jump out of (his) seat andů rush down the debate stage and take a swing at him” (the President.)
There is much speculation if the Secret Service which guards the President — which is only slightly less paranoid than the Special Protection Group guarding the Indian Prime Minister — will allow Tagg Romney to enter the Lynn University campus in Florida on Monday. During the George W. Bush era, the Secret Service barred people from presidential events for much less: even those who wore protest T-shirts against the Iraq war were not allowed anywhere near functions attended by Bush.
Tagg’s remarks, for which no one from the Republican side — or he himself for that matter — has yet apologised, represent a continuing decline in the normally civil US presidential election discourse as both parties are increasingly on edge over a contest that has become so close that the outcome on November 6 is unpredictable.
The average of today’s tracking polls for the presidential election shows Obama and Romney in absolute dead heat, tied at 47.1 per cent in samples collected between October 7 and yesterday. Individual polls show one or other candidate slightly ahead but all within the margin of error between one and three per cent. Only a tracking poll by Gallup shows Romney in a clear national lead of six per cent.
Two days before Tagg’s threat against the President, Jason Thompson, son of the Republican Senate candidate from Wisconsin, said Obama should be sent back to Kenya, where his father came from, if he is defeated in the November 6 election.
“We have the opportunity to send President Obama back to Chicago — or Kenya,” Jason said at a fundraising brunch organised by the Kenosha County Republican Party in Wisconsin which was attended by the party’s national chairman Reince Priebus.
His remarks were recorded by a Democratic operative who was posted at the event, which is a normal practice during US election campaigns and has destroyed many candidates because of the foot-in-mouth disease that politicians are prone to. A lady at the brunch was heard in the video recording as responding to Jason that “we are taking donations for that Kenya trip”.
Jason’s comments drew a lot of attention because his father, Tommy Thompson, a former governor of Wisconsin and a member of the George W. Bush cabinet, is known for his gaffes. Some time ago, as a presidential hopeful, Thompson was forced to apologise for his remarks to a Jewish group that earning money was “part of the Jewish tradition”.
His son’s statement about sending Obama back to Kenya set off a storm of disapproval but the former governor initially tried to ride over the issue by trying to deflect from it. Later as protests grew, his campaign sent out an email saying Thompson “has addressed this with his son, just like any father would do. Jason Thompson said something he should not have and he apologises”.
Neither the father nor the son have, however, personally apologised for the reference to Kenya which has been a sore point for Obama throughout his 2008 campaign and has lingered during his presidency.
Because Obama’s father was Kenyan, and his mother spent many years abroad or away from continental US, in Hawaii, where Obama was born, die-hard opponents of the President have successfully spread the canard that his birth certificate from a Hawaii hospital is forged.
This has led to what is known as the “birther” movement doubting Obama’s eligibility to be President. Last year, the White House recognised that the movement had become strong enough to warrant a formal response and responded by releasing Obama’s original birth certificate.
Yet the “birthers” are unconvinced, with men like Jason Thompson raising the issue one way or another.
Tagg Romney qualified his threat in a radio interview to “take a swing” at the President by adding: “But you know you can’t do that because, well, first because there is a lot of Secret Service between you and him. But also because this is the nature of the process, they are going to do everything they can do to try to make my dad into someone he is not.”
A day later, another of Mitt Romney’s sons, Josh, tried to control the damage. He said to ABC News: “That brother has slugged me a couple of times. I am sure President Obama has nothing to worry about. You really don’t like to see your dad get beat up by the media or by President Obama, or whatever it is. That was just something he was saying off-the-cuff, and I assure you he didn’t mean it.”
That the Romney family has thin skins became clear when the First Lady aspirant, Ann Romney, appeared along with Josh and said she was initially against her husband going through a repetition of his failed 2008 presidential bid because of the negativity that election campaigns entail.
She categorically said her husband’s political career will end if he does not win next month’s presidential contest. “Absolutely,” she said. “He will not run again, nor will I.”
But the nadir in civility in this year’s election season was touched in California a few days ago when Brad Sherman and Howard Berman, both Democratic Congressmen now locked in a party primary contest nearly came to blows and the police had to step in to separate them during a debate attended by university students.
The students, who had never seen anything like that on a political arena, cheered and egged on the two men, both members of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, to engage in a physical fight.