By Justin Sink - 09/25/12 12:08 AM EDT
Mitt Romney seized on President Obama’s comparison of violence in the Middle East to “bumps in the road” on Monday in delivering a forceful rebuke of the commander in chief’s global leadership.
Romney blasted Obama’s remarks as both insensitive and inaccurate, arguing they understated a negative turn the post-Arab Spring Middle East has taken under Obama’s watch.
“The president characterized as ‘bumps in the road’ the developments of the Middle East — we just had an ambassador assassinated,” Romney told NBC News.
Romney is seeking to spark momentum for his campaign, going after Obama’s comments on the eve of the president’s address to the United Nations General Assembly.
The GOP presidential nominee’s argument built on a well-received interview on “60 Minutes” and is part of his campaign’s shift in messaging: Instead of just criticizing Obama’s record, it plans to highlight the contrast between the two candidates.
Romney reiterated his attack during a separate interview with ABC News, and then again minutes later during a campaign stop in Pueblo, Colo., while running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) compared Obama to President Jimmy Carter.
“I mean, turn on the TV and it reminds you of 1979 Tehran, but they’re burning our flags in capitals all around the world. They’re storming our embassies,” Ryan said.
The Republican campaign also organized a conference call featuring House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) criticizing the president’s “60 Minutes” comments, and throughout the day it circulated media coverage of the interview.
Romney argued the U.S. “can’t afford four more years like the last four years” in slamming Obama’s remarks, a line that underlined the shift in his campaign strategy.
In a Monday morning conference call, Romney adviser Ed Gillespie repeatedly emphasized that the Romney campaign would argue “how four more years of the last four years is not going to be good for the American people.”
Gillespie also promised Romney would spend more time campaigning and would hold fewer fundraising events.
Romney’s reboot arrives after three difficult weeks on the campaign trail highlighted by negative polls and leaked footage from a May campaign fundraiser in which Romney described 47 percent of the country as “victims” who were dependent on government and sure to vote for Obama.
But the Romney campaign believes that Obama’s persistent — yet small —lead in the national polls can be eclipsed, and argues that a shift in campaign strategy could be just the way to accomplish a comeback.
Obama made the “bumps” statement during in an interview on “60 Minutes” that was part of a larger discussion of whether recent events had given him any pause in his support for governments that had arisen following the Arab Spring.
“I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to do to align ourselves with democracy, universal rights, a notion that people have to be able to participate in their own governance,” Obama said. “But I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because, you know, in a lot of these places, the one organizing principle has been Islam.”
But there was evidence that new questions about the State Department’s account of what happened in Libya, as well as questions about the security there, were frustrating members of the Obama administration and campaign.
White House press secretary Jay Carney defended Obama earlier in the day, saying Republican attacks on the president’s phrasing were “profoundly offensive” and amounted to a “desperate attempt to grasp at words and phrases.”
And the Obama campaign angrily blasted back at Romney’s criticism.
“Today, we saw what Mitt Romney meant when he told a closed-door group of high-dollar donors that he would ‘take advantage of the opportunity’ to politicize an international crisis to help his campaign,” said Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith in a statement.
Republicans have widely applauded Romney’s more muscular approach, and a campaign that seems willing to strike while the iron is hot. They are seeing, for the first time in weeks, Democrats appearing flustered and frustrated by offensive moves by the Romney campaign, and there’s some optimism in Boston that corresponding gains in the polls could materialize.
Team Romney hopes to continue the momentum with a renewed emphasis on trade with China, another attack that seemed to get under the Obama campaign’s skin.
After a Romney ad earlier this month criticized the president’s record on China, the Obama campaign quickly responded with commercials of its own. And, days later, the president announced that he had filed a trade case with the WTO protesting Chinese subsidies on automobile parts.
“I think it’s clear that the message on China has resonated not only with the voters, but you can tell with the response from the Obama campaign,” Gillespie said. “They went up with an ad in response to it on China, and on top of that, the administration filed a case.”
According to a Romney campaign memo, the candidate plans to continue pressing the issue during a three-day bus tour through Ohio. Voters in the crucial swing state — no Republican has ever won the presidency without capturing Ohio — tend to be blue-collar workers particularly sensitive to the issue of China.