Mitt Romney is getting the full John Kerry treatment on national security — and some top Republicans are alarmed by what they see as his ham-handed response to it.
Romney — whose convention speech didn’t include a salute to the troops or a reference to Afghanistan, where about 75,000 Americans are still at war — is getting hit almost daily now by Democratic attacks that he is wobbly and therefore untrustworthy on national security.
It’s the same critique Republicans used to undermine Kerry to devastating effect eight years ago — and the Obama campaign plans to use the run-up to the presidential debates to make a major issue of Romney’s surprising convention stumble.
Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, an Obama surrogate, said Monday that the GOP nominee’s approach has been “unbecoming of someone who wants to become commander in chief.” Clark was building on a very personal critique of Romney that started with Kerry himself at last week’s Democratic convention and was quickly followed by Vice President Joe Biden and then President Barack Obama.
Romney, who aides say has downplayed national security in speeches and in the campaign to focus on the economy, will seek to repair any damage on Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, when he speaks to a crowd of 4,000 at the annual conference of the National Guard Association in Reno, Nev. What might have been a standard patriotic speech has become a more urgent mission to reset the national security debate for the last nine weeks of the campaign, aides said...
...Romney squandered earlier opportunities to repair the damage in national television interviews, and some influential Republicans fear he is beginning to look like Kerry, circa 2004. Like the Democratic nominee eight years ago, Romney has been caught off guard by — and then bristled at — questions about his strength as a potential commander in chief and his commitment to the troops.
When Romney was pressed on the omission on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, he began by quarreling with the question rather than making an affirmative statement about the troops or his war plans.
“I find it interesting that people are curious about mentioning words in a speech as opposed to policy,” he told moderator David Gregory. “I have some differences on policy with the president. I happen to think those are more important than what word I mention in each speech.”
The day before the “Meet the Press” taping, Romney gave a similar answer to Bret Baier of Fox News: “I only regret you’re repeating it day in, day out. [Laughter] … When you give a speech, you don’t go through a laundry list. You talk about the things that you think are important and I describe, in my speech, my commitment to a strong military.”
For Romney, according to top Republicans, the danger is that he has dug an even deeper hole for himself in an area that was already an Obama strength and looks oblivious to the concerns of a crucial Republican constituency — military families and veterans. A CNN poll out Monday found 54 percent of likely voters say Obama would better handle foreign policy, compared with 42 percent who favored Romney...
...“A presidential election is ultimately a character test,” a top GOP strategist said. “This speaks to the credibility and plausibility of being commander in chief, and any candidate for president has to get over that hump. He looks tone deaf. Everyone is in the faux outrage business. But this time, people are actually offended. He offended military families in some crucial states.”
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