President Barack Obama's speech to the United Nations on Tuesday brought out the worst in Mitt Romney. Romney, and his running mate Paul Ryan spent the last few days beating up the president on national security policy.
Real life has a nasty habit of disrupting the simulated reality that we call political campaigns. This year's campaign was supposed to be an "It's the economy, stupid" campaign that Mitt Romney could use to attract voters unhappy about unemployment. A focus on the economy makes perfect sense for the Romney ticket, but for the last few days both candidates concentrated their fire on the president's national security record. Foreign policy is the latest shiny object that has distracted the GOP from taking the only road it has to victory.
Little noticed in the infamous Romney "47 percent video," but just as troubling was his statement on foreign policy. Romney told the fat cats at his fundraiser that his solution to solving the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors was to "kick the can down the road."
The phrase the president used to hit Romney on his response to the Libya crisis—"shoot first and aim later"—also applies to the GOP's larger approach to solving international problems. As commander in chief, Romney could bomb Iran, Syria, and Libya back to the Stone Age, but that wouldn't solve the underlying cause of violence in the region, which is the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors. That conflict is the last thing you want to "kick down the road."
Romney hoped the election would be a referendum on the president's handling of the economy. A campaign with the focus on national security is not the contest Mitt Romney signed on for. Events in the Middle East are overtaking the campaign and it is clear that national security is not Mitt Romney's strong suit.
The decline in Romney's strength coincided with his fumbling and blundering trip to Great Britain and Israel. Publicly insulting your closest ally and an opponent you have to do business with is not an effective foreign policy or campaign strategy.
Romney's inexperience in matters of national security was also obvious in his interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos. The newsman asked the candidate how his policy towards Iran was different than the president's. Stephanopoulos gave the GOP nominee three chances to answer the question and Romney whiffed each time. In politics, like baseball, three strikes and you're out.
Americans have made it clear who they want to answer that 2 a.m. crisis call. In a national survey conducted in the middle of September by the New York Times and CBS News, voters approved of the president's handling of foreign policy by a margin of 50 percent to 36 percent.
When the phone rings at 2 a.m. at the Romney home next year, it won't be Romney's national security adviser because you don't need one when you're a private citizen. More likely the call will be from Romney's Swiss banker with an update on his account balance.