Mitt Romney and the (foreign policy) vision thing

October 8, 2012

Foreign policy isn't going to decide the 2012 election; Mitt Romney and his campaign team know that. So why is Romney using a precious day -- there are only 29 days left before the election -- to deliver a foreign policy speech today at the Virginia Military Institute?


Simple: Romney has yet to demonstrate to undecided voters that he (a) is ready, willing and able to represent America on the world stage and (b) has some sort of broader sense of how he would do so. Call it the vision thing -- and Romney and his team know he still has some work to do to convince undecideds on that front.

Whether it was the decidedly mixed press coverage he received during his trip to Britain, Israel and Poland or the criticism he took for his statement following the attack in Benghazi that left Ambassador Chris Stevens dead (Romney's statement came before Stevens's death was confirmed), Romney has had an unsteady run of things when it comes to matters of foreign policy.

If the excerpts released by the campaign early this morning are any indication, Romney plans to lay out his leadership vision in comparison (and contrast) with what President Obama has done in his first four years in office.

On the Middle East, Romney is set to say: "I know the president hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States. I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy."

On trade: "The president has not signed one new free trade agreement in the past four years. I will reverse that failure."

And on the big picture of defining America's place in the world, Romney is set to make a not-so-subtle reference to the infamous phrase "leading from behind": "I believe that if America does not lead, others will — others who do not share our interests and our values — and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us. America’s security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years."

There is some evidence in polling that suggests opportunity for Romney here. In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, 49 percent of registered voters approved of Obama's handling of foreign policy while 48 percent disapproved. Those numbers are down from earlier this year, when the killing of Osama bin Laden made foreign policy a strength for Obama.

And yet, when it comes to a choice between Obama and Romney on handling foreign affairs, 49 percent of registered voters said they trusted the incumbent more, while 44 trusted Romney -- a margin that, encouragingly for the Romney team, has narrowed since Post-ABC polling done in the spring.

Voters -- especially at times of economic crisis (or at least anxiety) -- don't vote on foreign policy. But they do vote for a leader and want/need to believe that their president understands the complexities of the world and has a plan to solve them.

Romney isn't there. He has to hope that today's speech, coupled with a strong showing in the Oct. 22 foreign policy-focused presidential debate, convinces voters he's got the vision to lead on the world stage.

Obama team hits back early: All eyes will be on Romney today, but Democrats aren't content to let Romney dominate the news. As early as Sunday, they were already issuing a sort of prebuttal, and on Monday, the Obama campaign launched a foreign policy attack ad.

The ad rehashes Romney's overseas stumbles and says he has failed the commander-in-chief test.

Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Sunday that Romney has been "an unmitigated disaster on foreign policy every time he’s dipped his toe in the foreign policy waters."

“Just as a refresher, this is the same guy who when he went overseas on his trip, the only person who has offended Europe more is probably Chevy Chase," Psaki said.

Obama pokes fun as debate performance: Sometimes the best medicine is a little self-deprecation.

Obama tried that cure Sunday, making light of his debate performance while appearing on-stage with entertainment icons in Los Angeles.

"They're such great friends, and they just perform flawlessly night after night," Obama said. "I can't always say the same."

This is the Obama campaign acknowledging the narrative that has been written about the debate. On Sunday, they set about trying to move the focus from style to substance, with Robert Gibbs, for instance, saying Romney's presentation was "masterful" but his content was "dishonest."

Fixbits:

Obama pokes fun at his debate performance.

Romney's crowds grow after his strong debate last week. 

Paul Ryan compares Romney to Ronald Reagan.

A new Selzer and Company poll of Colorado shows Obama leading Romney 47 percent to 43 percent.

new poll from a Democratic-leaning pollster in Nevada shows Sen. Dean Heller (R) with a two-point advantage on Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) and Republicans leading the state's two competitive House races.

A new Western New England University poll shows Elizabeth Warren (D) leading Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) 50 percent to 45 percent. Meanwhile, a new poll from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (conducted by Harstad Strategic Research) shows Warren at 50 percent and Brown at 44 percent.

Connecticut Senate candidates Rep. Chris Murphy (D) and Linda McMahon debated Sunday.

The Chicago Tribune editorial board endorses Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-Ill.) and Democrat Tammy Duckworth, who is running against Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.). 

Siena College poll shows Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.) tied with Republican Chris Collins.

new Tarrance Group poll for the fiscally conservative group Public Notice shows 57 percent of Americans think Obama would use money from a tax increase for more government programs, while 32 percent think he would use it to pay down the national debt and deficit.

Jon Stewart debates Bill O'Reilly. And here's the video.

Must-reads:

"30 Days Out: Fundamentals Still Favor Obama" -- Amy Walter, ABC News

"Is Obama overrated as a candidate?" -- Chris Cillizza, Washington Post

"Capitol Assets: Congress’s wealthiest mostly shielded from effects of deep recession" -- Dan Keating, Scott Higham, Kimberly Kindy and David S. Fallis, Washington Post

"In Va. Senate race, anti-Kaine message focuses more on taxes, less on Obama" -- Ben Pershing, Washington Post

"Supreme Court receives outpouring of conflicting views on affirmative action" -- Robert Barnes, Washington Post

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Sean Sullivan | October 7, 2012