By Justin Sink - 05/01/12 12:26 AM EDT
Mitt Romney is trying to flip the script on President Obama and use the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death to his own political advantage.
Romney on Monday dismissed the supposed courageousness of Obama’s decision to send a team of Navy SEALs to Pakistan to kill bin Laden, calling it an easy decision that “even Jimmy Carter” would have made.
He also announced plans to campaign Tuesday with New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in an appearance timed to the anniversary of bin Laden’s death.
Obama was left to defend his campaign team and administration, telling reporters at a White House press conference that he “hardly think[s] you’ve seen any excessive celebration taking place here.”
“I think the American people remember rightly what we as a country accomplished in bringing to justice someone who killed 3,000 of our citizens,” Obama said.
The Romney team clearly hopes its strategy — equal parts criticism of Obama and employment of top GOP talent on homeland security — will undermine the president’s signature foreign-policy accomplishment.
But in truth, Obama and his campaign are likely all too happy that the discussion between the candidates is about bin Laden.
For a campaign team primarily concerned about the speed and strength of the economic recovery, each day spent debating the death of a terrorist leader is one not focused on the president’s economic history — with the added benefit of reminding voters about his foreign-policy bona fides.
“The greatest risk is that they would listen to Mitt Romney and the Republicans and not talk about the single greatest foreign-policy achievement of this term,” said Democratic strategist Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Al Gore’s and John Kerry’s presidential bids.
“Republicans are desperate to suffocate this infant in the crib, and I think the American people are going to see right through this. It’s such a tremendous and real achievement, and it stands in dramatic contrast to what President Bush did, which is to run away from and try to diminish capturing and killing bin Laden,” Devine said.
Democrats feel especially empowered on the issue because of comments Romney made in 2007, in which he said “it’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.”
And while Obama defended his administration against charges of spiking the football, the president doubled down Monday on the criticism of Romney, encouraging reporters to “take a look at people’s previous statements.”
“If there are others who said one thing and now said they’d do something else, I’d let them explain it,” he added.
Republicans recognize the talk about bin Laden could be dangerous territory for Romney.
“Obviously President Obama wants to make Election 2012 about anything but his record, but Mitt Romney really needs to make this more about the economy,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, who argued the former governor was facing an uphill battle because the media was sympathetic to Obama on the issue.
“If the shoe were on the other foot, the media would flag a President Romney 45 yards for excessive celebration,” O’Connell said.
The danger for Obama is that he is seen as a braggart trumpeting a national achievement as a personal victory.
If he appears too crass or opportunistic, he risks forfeiting a major trump card in his November showdown with Romney.
“Presidents very rarely trumpet their personal decisions as personal triumphs, and the reason for that is it kind of undermines their legitimacy — it’s kind of the Donald Trump effect: ‘It’s all about me,’ ” said James Carafano, a senior research fellow on homeland security issues for the Heritage Foundation.
“It’s not that presidents don’t make tough calls, and it’s not that they can’t or shouldn’t talk about that, but to personalize it or to take personal accomplishment is not something we’ve traditionally seen.”
Some Democrats have argued that Obama’s use of the bin Laden killing is reminiscent of former President George W. Bush’s decision to campaign on his response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks during his 2004 reelection bid.
Still, Devine said he didn’t “see a big downside for the president” on the issue, arguing that skirmishes over the bin Laden killing would be “as disastrous as the ‘war on women’ debate for Republicans” and keep the focus off the economy.
The Democratic strategist also said campaigning with Giuliani would likely do little to boost Romney’s image, especially considering how tepid the former mayor’s endorsement of the presumptive Republican nominee was.
“Hopefully he can meet with Giuliani once a week for the rest of the campaign,” Devine quipped.