An awkward moment occurred at Mitt Romney's town hall event in Cleveland, Ohio on Monday when an audience member, in the process of asking him a question, asserted that President Barack Obama should be tried for treason. Romney remained silent during the question-and-answer session, only to say that he "of course" did not agree with the sentiment while greeting voters after the event.
The incident nevertheless illustrated what seems likely to be a tricky proposition for Romney as the general election season progresses: balancing the anti-Obama sentiments of the party's base with the need to maintain a civil level of discourse.
"We have a president right now that is operating outside the structure of our Constitution," the audience member said to applause. "And I want to know -- yeah, I do agree he should be tried for treason -- but I want to know what you would be able to do to restore balance between the three branches of government and what you are going to be able to do to restore our Constitution in this country."
Romney didn't correct the woman, choosing instead to address the question she posed.
"Well, as I'm sure you do, I happen to believe the Constitution was not just brilliant but probably inspired. I happen to believe the same thing about the Declaration of Independence," said Romney. "I would respect the different branches of government if I am fortunate enough to become president."
"I would reserve the right as president to put in place executive orders," Romney added. "I would put in place ... an executive order that grants a waiver from Obamacare to all 50 states."
Shortly after the event, Romney appeared on CNN, where he was asked about the incident. "I don't correct all of the questions that get asked of me," he said. "Obviously I don't agree that he should be tried."
Indeed, it's difficult to declare at what point Romney is obligated to correct or push back against a member of the crowd. But the whole episode brought to mind the infamous 2008 campaign event when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) corrected an audience member who asserted her belief that then-Sen. Obama was a Muslim. By not doing the same as McCain, Romney opened himself up to criticism.
"We saw what a weak leader Romney was in the whole [Richard] Grenell mess," DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse said, in reference to the openly gay foreign policy spokesman who left the Romney campaign last week. "Not surprised he didn't push back on the treason remark."
“Today we saw Mitt Romney’s version of leadership: standing by silently as his chief surrogate attacked the president’s family at the event and another supporter alleged that the president should be tried for treason," said Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign. "Time after time in this campaign, Mitt Romney has had the opportunity to show that he has the fortitude to stand up to hateful and over-the-line rhetoric and time after time, he has failed to do so. If this is the ‘leadership’ he has shown on the campaign trail, what can the American people expect of him as commander-in-chief?”
This article was updated to include remarks Romney made during an appearance on CNN and a response from the Obama campaign.