The Republican presidential ticket escalated its attack on President Barack Obama’s foreign policy as the U.S. political debate focused on a topic largely absent from the campaign trail until this week.
As Obama and Vice President Joe Biden yesterday honored the return of the remains of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans slain as violence erupted in Libya, Republican challengers Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan argued that they would be better able to prevent a crisis from developing overseas.
“Only by the confident exercise of American influence are evil and violence overcome,” said Ryan, his party’s vice presidential nominee. “That is how we keep problems abroad from becoming crises. That is what keeps the peace. And that is what we will have in a Romney-Ryan administration.”
Anti-Western protests, sparked by the release of an online video that denigrates Muslims, spread to more than 20 countries, with demonstrators storming the American embassy in Tunisia and leaving the German embassy in Sudan in flames.
Romney delayed his appearance at a campaign rally in Painesville, Ohio yesterday afternoon so he could watch the arrival of the bodies at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington. Standing with his hand over his heart, he later led a rain-drenched crowd in a moment of silence to recognize “the blood shed for freedom.”
Obama, Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, attended the ceremony at Andrews to pay tribute to the victims as their remains were returned to the U.S.
“Four Americans, four patriots, they loved this country and they chose to serve it, and they served it well,” Obama said, standing before four coffins draped with American flags. “We will bring to justice those who took them from us.”
Republicans have struggled to gain traction on foreign policy issues against the sitting commander-in-chief, who ended the war in Iraq and oversaw the U.S. raid in Pakistan last year that killed Osama bin Laden.
Romney’s first statement earlier this week about the fast-moving events in the Middle East, calling the president ‘disgraceful” for “sympathizing” with the attackers, drew bipartisan criticism.
Since then, the former Massachusetts governor has shifted his tone, arguing that Obama has repeatedly undermined American power across the globe.
“There have been over the years, confusing messages sent by the president of the United States to the world,” Romney told campaign donors in New York yesterday morning.
Ryan took a tougher line in a speech in Washington, charging the administration with treating Israel, a longtime U.S. ally, with “indifference bordering on contempt.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney criticized the timing of the Republican attacks.
“The criticism, in particular from Governor Romney and his team, in what seems to be an attempt to score a political point, has been both factually wrong and poorly timed,” Carney told reporters yesterday. “Now is a time when Americans should be coming together.”
Public opinion polls have shown voters giving Obama higher marks on dealing with foreign policy than Romney. In a CNN/ORC International survey released this week, Obama was favored on the issue over Romney, 54 percent to 42 percent.
Republicans see the recent protests as an opportunity to undermine one of Obama’s biggest strengths.
America needs a leader who “unabashedly” stands up for Israel, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, told the Value Voters Summit meeting in Washington yesterday, the same forum where Ryan spoke.
William Bennett, a former education secretary under President Ronald Reagan who Ryan described as a mentor, fired up the crowd by contrasting statements about the Middle East violence made this week by Romney and the Obama administration.
Obama’s response “to the bleeding slaughter spectacle,” he said, “was a bleating, sheepish statement.” Bennett told the cheering audience of party activists that the Republican presidential candidate “did not hesitate. He thundered.”
After a fundraising swing in New York that took in $7.5 million for his campaign, Romney flew to the swing state of Ohio where his campaign rally took place in pouring rain.
Almost 1,000 people attended the fundraising breakfast in New York, the last such event the campaign will host in the city, according to New York finance chairman Woody Johnson. Over the course of the campaign, Romney has raised roughly $70 million from the New York City area, finance aide Spencer Zwick told donors this morning.
He also used his time in New York to tape an interview with the day-time talk show, “Live! With Kelly & Michael.” In the final segment of the lighthearted appearance, Romney revealed that he indulges in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, hates how his wife squeezes toothpaste tubes, and likes Nicole Polizzi, better known as Snooki on the reality show “Jersey Shore.”
“I’m kind of a Snooki fan,” he told the hosts. “Look how tiny’s she’s gotten. She’s lost weight. She’s energetic. Just her spark-plug personality is kind of fun.”
The interview will be shown on Sept. 18, the same day Obama makes his seventh appearance on CBS’s “Late Show with David Letterman.”