WASHINGTON/FAIRFAX: Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney veered away from a blistering two days of ill-timed attacks on President Barack Obama’s handling of foreign affairs Thursday, focusing instead on the theme of loss.
“I know that we have heavy hearts across America today,” Romney said while campaigning in swing state Virginia, near the U.S. capital.
“We’ve lost four of our diplomats across the world; we’re thinking about their families and those that they’ve left behind,” he said, referring to Wednesday’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Romney moved to the safer political ground of the struggling American economy, saying that its revitalization was a first requirement for continued American military dominance.
Romney’s dramatic move back to campaigning on the economy followed heavy political fire from Obama, congressional Democrats and even some powerful Republican voices.
He was roundly criticized for seeking political advantage by accusing the president of apologizing to radical Islamists as they killed a U.S. ambassador and three other diplomatic workers in Libya and attacked the U.S. Embassy in Egypt.
Thursday, Romney paid tribute to the four U.S. diplomats killed in Libya, and while he steered clear of Obama’s handling of the crisis he said U.S. power was vital in the Middle East.
Republicans and Democrats alike came down hard on Romney Wednesday when he said the Obama administration “sympathized” with attackers in Egypt.
Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat who served several presidents and rose to the No. 3 job in the State Department under Republican George W. Bush, said he was distressed by Romney trying to score political points. “This is no time for politics.”
One former diplomat offered far blunter criticism. “He’s a businessman, he doesn’t know crap about foreign policy,” the ex-diplomat said.
Meanwhile, conservative commentator Erick Erickson said on Twitter that Romney “must be delicate” in handling such matters.
The results of the assault on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo were yet unknown when Romney fired off a sharply worded statement late Tuesday condemning Obama for his team’s handling of the situation.
The crisis was later compounded when the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in a separate attack on the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi.
Wednesday, after the White House condemned both attacks, Romney doubled down on his remarks, saying the administration “was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions.”