The Romney campaign can’t seem to decide whether it is dialing things down a notch after his disastrous response to the embassy attacks or whether it is amping things up. Yesterday on the campaign trail Romney seemed to be trying to strike a softer tone. But now a top Romney adviser is doing just the opposite, suggesting that the attacks might not have happened if Romney were president:

A top foreign policy aide to Mitt Romney suggested Thursday that the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens would never have happened if Romney were president. There wouldn’t even be anti-American protests in the Middle East if Romney were in charge, the aide said.

“There’s a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you’d be in a different situation,” Romney adviser Richard Williamson told The Washington Post. “For the first time since Jimmy Carter, we’ve had an American ambassador assassinated.”...

“In Egypt and Libya and Yemen, again demonstrations — the respect for America has gone down, there’s not a sense of American resolve and we can’t even protect sovereign American property,” he said.

The Jimmy Carter reference is interesting, and hints at the possibility that the Romney camp’s jumping of the gun on this crisis may be partly rooted in the campaign’s seemingly unshakable view that this race will play out just as the 1980 campaign did. In that campaign, of course, the Iranian hostage crisis exposed Carter’s mishandling of foreign affairs at a time when he was also accused of mishandling the economy, helping cause a late break toward Ronald Reagan. Romney and his advisers continually invoke the 1980 campaign to argue that at the last minute, voters will come to their senses and realize how weak and ineffective Obama has been. So it’s not unreasonable to speculate that the Romney campaign saw these events unfolding and decided something similar to 1980 was happening again, leading them to pounce.

But as Steve Benen notes, the notion that voters will perceive things in these terms is complicated by the fact that Obama consistently gets high marks when it comes to terrorism and national security. Meanwhile, on the substance of this, Benjy Sarlin points out that the Romney adviser in question served under George W. Bush, during which numerous deadly attacks on diplomatic compounds took place in the Middle East.

The Obama campaign is leaping on the new quotes from the Romney adviser to keep the story focused on Romney:

“It is astonishing that the Romney campaign continues to shamelessly politicize a sensitive international situation,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said. “The fact is that any president of either party is going to be confronted by crises while in office, and Governor Romney continues to demonstrate that he is not at all prepared to manage them.”

In my view, there’s nothing wrong with criticizing a president during a crisis, and it’s of course entirely legitimate to debate what the events tell us about Obama’s approach to foreign policy. But the problem for Romney is this: When he falsely accused the Obama administration of sympathizing with the attackers, he established this partly as a story about his own judgment and temperament. Now that Romney’s adviser has escalated matters, coverage will continue to be colored by the tone of his initial response.

* Romney admits similarities between his and Obama’s Iran policies: In an interview with ABC News , Romney claimed he would draw a “red line” against Iran getting nukes. Reminded that Obama has drawn he same line, and asked if he were drawing the “same” line as the president, Romney replied: “Yes.”

Romney went on to note that the difference between their policies lies in what he would do before Iran reaches that line.

* Unintentional self-parody of the day: Romney, in his interview with ABC News:

“I think the challenge that I’ll have in the debate is that the president tends to, how shall I say it, to say things that aren’t true,” Romney said. “I’ve looked at prior debates. And in that kind of case, it’s difficult to say, ‘Well, am I going to spend my time correcting things that aren’t quite accurate?”

This, coming from a campaign that has openly boasted that the dishonesty in its ads worked, and has openly proclaimed that it does not view media fact checking as a legitimate constraint on its messaging.

* Obama holds narrow lead in new poll: The new New York Times/CBS poll finds Obama leading Romney by three points, 49-46, among likely voters, and by 51-43 among registered voters. The poll was taken Sept. 8-12, entirely after the weak August jobs report.

Some national polls are now showing Obama in the neighborhood of 50 percent, even among likely voters, which is a good sign for him, although this could reflect a convention bounce that could still fade.

* Still more proof Romney is lying about embassy attacks: Glenn Kessler takes Romney’s argument apart this morning. As he notes, the Tweet that came after the attacks — which is the basis for much of the conservative case about what happened — actually condemned them. It’s hard to see how one could condemn something and sympathize with it simultaneously, but I’m sure that can be squared somehow. Also, this:

In its rush to jump on the fast-moving story, the Romney campaign badly conflated the two things — and then made itself the focus of attention, instead of the administration’s policies or its handling of the crisis. If the Romney campaign had stayed largely silent for the first couple of days, the focus would have remained on the unrest unfolding in the Middle East and the administration’s policy in the region.

* Romney’s embassy lie exposes his weakness: Jonathan Alter on how Romney’s claims about the embassy attack revealed both his instinct to pander to seething Obama hatred and his lack of the prudence and judgment necessary to be president.

* Dems airing ads featuring Paul Ryan: Dems are redoubling their efforts to use Paul Ryan as a weapon against Republicans in House races, airing ads starring him as the key architect of the GOP plan to end Medicare as we know it.

Polls have shown a lopsided disconnect between the number of Americans who view Ryan favorably and the number who disapprove of his actual plan. Nonetheless, the stepped-up use of Ryan reflects a belief among Dems that the Ryan agenda — which is now basically the GOP’s guiding blueprint — will continue weighing the party down.

* Fossil fuel industries heart Mitt Romney: The New York Times has a fascinating look at how the oil, gas, and goal industries are pumping big bucks into Romney’s campaign because they allegedly feel “threatened” by the Obama administration. This, even as environmentalists decry Obama’s policies as being too favorable to the industry.

* And the headline of the day: Courtesy of Fox:

Obama Calls Libyan President to Thank Him After US Ambassador Murdered

It never ends.

What else?