If he had questioned whether a man who displays an online image of a birth certificate that's almost certainly a forgery is trustworthy enough to be president, Romney would have been demonized as both a "racist" and a "birther."
Few people can shrug that off. Rather than venture into such dangerous territory, the campaign seems to have ceded character and ideology issues as a matter of self-defense. "Taking the high road," the campaign argued that President Obama was a good man but a bad president. It was as if the election turned on a difference of opinion within the spectrum of political normal rather than a last-ditch chance to stop Obama's collectivist vision of "transformative change" from destroying what's left of the republic.
And so the Romney campaign "stuck to the issues," if only one of them. Afghan security forces continued to kill U.S. soldiers throughout the campaign season, but Romney ignored this manifestation of foreign policy meltdown. A fallen Navy SEAL Team 6 member's family accused the Obama White House of blowing operational secrecy, thus leading to their son's death, and Romney ignored an Obama scandal symbolic of political exploitation and national security fecklessness.
When asked to comment on a query from five House Republicans on whether hostile actors linked to the Muslim Brotherhood might have compromised our national security decision-making chain, Romney had no comment, either. "I'm not going to tell other people what things to talk about," he replied. "Those are not things that are part of my campaign."
They should have been. But since these same things (and many more) weren't part of the media's own campaign, he could get away with it. But ask yourself: Why? Why weren't Romney's stands on such matters of interest to the media? Because all of them, every one, had the potential to inflict political damage on President Obama. Romney may have kept quiet about them to avoid antagonizing the Obama-loyal media, but in so doing, he rendered himself incapable of inflicting political damage on the president, too.
The most perplexing nonissue of all has to be Benghazi-gate, the 9/11/12 terrorist attack in Libya in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed. This real-time White House scandal was unfolding on several levels in the final weeks of the campaign, offering damning insights into Obama's foreign policy, his performance as commander in chief and his bald-faced willingness to lie to the American people. Romney didn't want to talk about it. The media didn't want to talk about it. Obama certainly didn't want to talk about it. "This election has nothing to do with four brave Americans getting killed," Obama said during a Colorado TV interview to the one reporter in the country who has asked the president whether he denied military relief to Americans under fire. And indeed, it didn't.
I wonder if that's one question Mitt Romney now wishes he'd asked the president himself.
(Diana West is the author of "The Death of the Grown-up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization," and blogs at dianawest.net. She can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @diana_west_.)