Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee for president, formally dubbed Mitt Romney as his successor Wednesday evening and declared a Romney victory vital to the nation’s standing in the world.
McCain embraced the candidacy of the man he defeated in the 2008 GOP primaries, and condemned President Obama for not doing more to avert $1 trillion in defense cuts or support democratic uprisings in the Middle East.
Four years ago, McCain’s campaign effectively dismantled Romney’s first White House bid by painting him as a flip flopper without conviction.
On Wednesday, McCain said he had come to terms with his defeat at Obama’s hands and urged Republicans to rally behind Romney.
“I had hopes once of addressing you under different circumstances. But our fellow Americans had another plan four years ago, and I accept their decision,” he told the throng of delegates.
“What Mitt Romney knows, and what we know, is that our success at home also depends on our leadership in the world,” McCain said.
“It is our willingness to shape world events for the better that has kept us safe, increased our prosperity, preserved our liberty and transformed human history. At our best, America has led.”
Not all the Republican delegates share McCain’s vision of a muscular American foreign policy. Delegates for Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who has advocated a more isolationist approach, walked off the floor during his address.
It’s not clear if the Paul delegates intended to send a message to McCain or whether it was in protest of the Republican National Committee’s decision to unseat elected pro-Paul delegates in the Maine delegation.
They circulated the concourse of the arena chanting: “As Maine goes so goes the nation.”
McCain has emerged as one of Obama’s harshest critics in the Senate, and stayed true to form by broadly panning the president’s record on foreign policy and national security.
He suggested Obama has been a weak ally of Israel and subtly rebuked the administration for leaking classified information to the media on national security.
He said Obama should have done more to aide the pro-democratic uprising in Iran and the revolution in Syria, warning the president’s approach has betrayed the values of the nation and encouraged despots abroad.
“Sadly, for the lonely voices of dissent in Syria, and Iran, and elsewhere, who feel forgotten in their darkness, and sadly for us, as well, our president is not being true to our values,” he said.
He said the nation’s rivals and enemies have not hesitated to aggressively pursue their own foreign policy agendas or use the United Nations to blunt American influence.
“The situation is far worse in Syria. What began as peaceful protests has now become, 18 months later, a savage and unfair fight,” he said. “With the full backing of Iran and Hezbollah and Russia — with tanks and helicopters and fighter jets, [Syrian President] Bashir Assad is murdering men, women and children.”
He said it is folly for the commander-in-chief to attempt to defend American interests through multilateral efforts brokered by the United Nations, where Russia and China have veto power on the security counsel.
McCain has become the party’s leading elder statesman on foreign policy and national security issues in Congress.
He received a warm reception from the crowd as he embraced a wounded soldier who introduced him onstage. Many delegates held up hand-written signs wishing the Arizona senator a happy 76th birthday.
He heaped additional criticism on Obama for not paying sufficient heed to the warnings of his Defense secretary, who has warned an additional $500 billion in automatic cuts would cripple the armed forces. They would come on top of $500 billion in spending reductions already slated at the Pentagon.
“The president is playing no leadership role in preventing this crippling blow to our military,” he said.
McCain made clear that he views Romney as an inheritor of his worldview and a champion of intervention abroad to promote American values.
“I trust him to affirm our nation’s exceptional character and responsibilities,” he declared in closing. “I trust him to know that an American president always, always, always stands up for the rights, and freedoms, and justice of all people.”
— This story was updated at 9:25 p.m.