Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – The Romney Doctrine?

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop in Warwick, Rhode Island April 11, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

When it comes to U.S. presidents and foreign policy, it’s always been a matter of what they do during crises, rather than what they say on the campaign trail.

Running for president in 2000, George W. Bush campaigned against “nation building.” But the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, changed everything, and Bush wound up launching an invasion of Iraq that led to a decade-long war and redefined U.S. foreign policy.

Now, likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is talking tough on foreign policy – and seeking to cast Democratic President Barack Obama as naïve and soft. Romney is promising a “more aggressive” approach toward China, Russia and the Middle East. He says he would swiftly brand Beijing a currency manipulator, refuse to concede to Moscow on nuclear issues and put more emphasis on defending Israel from a potential attack by Iran.

Romney says he would ratchet up the financial pressure on Iran through sanctions, while leaving the option of military action on the table. His campaign clearly wants to give the impression that he might prove more willing than Obama to take military action against Iran’s nuclear program.

Best of the debate: Ron Paul v. Michele Bachmann

Presidential debates allow voters to hear how candidates differ, and there are few policy differences as great as that between Rep. Ron Paul and Rep. Michele Bachmann on Iran. Take this exchange from last night:

Bachmann:

“Without a shadow of a doubt, Iran will take a nuclear weapon, they will use it to wipe our ally Israel off the face of the map and they’ve stated they will use it against the United States of America.”

For what it’s worth, Politifact has looked into Bachmann’s claim and rated it “false.”

New Romney ad counters ‘flip-flopper’ label

In case you missed it, Mitt Romney grew a bit testy when Fox News’ Bret Baier pressed him with questions about his about-faces on issues like abortion, climate change and immigration in an interview last week.

Now a new ad out from his campaign looks to counter the ‘flip-flopper’ label Romney has grown so tired of talking about. The ad, released online today and due to air in Iowa and New Hampshire this week, features images of Romney as a young man with his family while Romney gives a voice-over:

 I think people understand that I’m a man of steadiness and constancy. I don’t think you’re going to find somebody who has more of those attributes than I do.

Just what is a “Lincoln-Douglas” debate?

Republican frontrunner Newt Gingrich and long-shot Jon Huntsman say they’ll hold a “Lincoln-Douglas” debate in New Hampshire on Monday. So how will it be different from the usual debates?

During the 1858 race for U.S. Senate in Illinois, incumbent Democrat Stephen Douglas and upstart Republican lawyer Abraham Lincoln held a series of seven three-hour debates in towns throughout the state on the day’s hottest topic: slavery.

The debates had no moderator, and the candidates spoke in paragraphs rather than today’s rehearsed 45-second sound bites. In each of the debates, the first candidate was given 60 minutes to make opening remarks. His opponent was given 90 minutes to respond, and the first candidate was allowed a final 30-minute rebuttal.

Newt, schmoot – Democrats keep sights firmly on Romney

 

Newt Gingrich may have jumped into the lead among Republican presidential hopefuls in some national polls, but the Democrats — at least – seem convinced that Mitt Romney will be President Barack Obama’s opponent in November 2012, at least if you look at how they are spending their advertising dollars.

The latest barrage, an early salvo in what is expected to be a particularly nasty presidential campaign, is a four-minute-long attack titled “Mitt v. Mitt: The Story of Two Men Trapped in One Body.” Slamming the former Massachusetts governor as having changed his position on a wide range of issues, the ad uses clips showing Romney speaking at varying points in his career and expressing different viewpoints on issues such as healthcare, immigration, climate change and even Ronald Reagan.

Speaking of Reagan, the video shows the former president saying, “There you go again,”  a particularly devastating line the Republican icon used in a debate with Democratic President Jimmy Carter, whom Reagan defeated in the 1980 election. It also uses clips from late-night television hosts depicting Romney as a candidate who “flip-flops” by changing his position, echoing Democratic attacks on Romney.

Obama focus on policy, not polls – White House

The White House is downplaying several new polls showing President Obama’s job approval ratings plunging to new lows along with rising public concern over high unemployment and the sluggish economy.

“The president is focused on the measures he can take…  to address the urgent need to grow our economy and create jobs; to deal with the fact that economic growth is not fast enough and that job creation is not substantial enough,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said at Tuesday’s press briefing when asked how concerned Obama is about the poll numbers.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Obama’s overall job approval rating at a low of 44 percent, down 3 percentage points since July.  More than half of Americans  now disapprove of Obama’s job performance and one in three say they’re worse off financially since he’s been in the White House, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll. And a poll by Politico and George Washington University shows 72 percent of voters believe the country is heading in the wrong direction.

Washington Extra – Tweet tweet

President Barack Obama’s Twitter Townhall would have been more interesting if he had answered tweet for tweet.

Instead it looked a lot like an old-fashioned interview except the questions came over the transom on Twitter.

Of the tens of thousands of questions posed at #AskObama the ones chosen allowed the president to chew over long-standing talking points but offered little new insight. It might have been worth asking at least one fun question off the well-trodden policy path.

Washington Extra – Comfort zones

Senators are talking. The president is talking. But whether they are talking at or with each other is another question.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled a Libya resolution so that senators could focus on debt issues this week, which after all was the reason why they cancelled recess.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell invited President Barack Obama to Capitol Hill to hear why a debt deal with tax increases won’t fly. And then he accepted an invitation from Obama to meet at the White House on Thursday with other congressional leaders.

Washington Extra – Waiting for fireworks

Will we see fireworks in the debt talks next week?

So far the White House and lawmakers have been cranky about the state of negotiations, but no one has actually drawn a firm line in the sand – still hoping for a compromise.

Senators and staff can’t be happy about having their Fourth of July recess cancelled next week over debt talks, setting up a perfect environment for tempers to flare.

And no matter how much critics try to pooh-pooh the deadline for avoiding default, Treasury is sticking with Aug. 2 as the drop-debt date.

Washington Extra – Not enough

The word is not enough. That was the message from the United States to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who pledged reforms in a speech at Damascus University.

“What’s important now is action, not words,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

White House spokesman Jay Carney concurred: “President Assad needs to either lead that transition or get out of the way … I’m not saying the words are meaningless, but he needs to act on them … But first, he needs to stop the violence.”