The situation started Tuesday night, with Romney accusing Obama of sympathizing with anti-American interests in the Muslim world — a common line of attack from the Republican.
But the timing of the statement — in the middle of the ongoing incidents in Libya and Egypt — led to an outburst of criticism that built as the night went on and intensified after Romney reiterated the charge at a hastily staged news conference here Wednesday morning.
“I think it’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values, that instead when our grounds are being attacked and being breached, that the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation,” Romney told reporters. “An apology for America’s values is never the right course.”
Minutes after Romney’s news conference, inside a small campaign office in a drab Jacksonville strip mall, a door down from the Blazin Reptiles exotic pet shop, Obama addressed the nation surrounded by the grandeur of his office. In the Rose Garden, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at his side and the White House behind him, the president mourned the loss of American lives and vowed that “justice will be done.”
Acting on what one senior campaign official said was the unanimous recommendation of his foreign policy and political advisers, Romney took a calculated gamble in admonishing the president before the full gravity of the situation was known.
But he was left hanging from a weak limb as many in his party — including his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) — appeared to undercut him with noticeably more conciliatory and somber responses. “This is a time for healing. It’s a time for resolve,” Ryan said Wednesday during a campaign stop in De Pere, Wis.
“It almost feels like Sarah Palin is his foreign policy adviser,” Matthew Dowd, who was a top strategist for president George W. Bush, said in an interview. “It’s just a huge mistake on the Romney campaign’s part — huge mistake.”
In an interview Wednesday afternoon with CBS News, Obama said there is “a broader lesson to be learned here.”
“Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later,” he told CBS. “And as president, one of the things I have learned is that you can’t do that. You have to make sure that statements you make are backed up by facts and that you have to think through the ramification before you make them.”
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview that Romney demonstrated “a level of political recklessness and expediency that I think defies America’s interest.”