Washington Watch: Another new Mitt Romney emerges

In running away from the far-right Tea Partiers, religious extremists and neocons, Romney tried to portray himself as a moderate who seeks world peace through prosperity.

Romney delivers major foreign policy speech 370 (photo credit: Screenshot)
Romney delivers major foreign policy speech 370
(photo credit: Screenshot)
Another new Mitt Romney showed up for Monday night’s foreign policy debate. This one abandoned many of his prior positions to repeatedly agree with Barack Obama on so many issues that the president said the big difference between them seemed to be “you’d do the same things we did, but say them louder.”
In running away from the far-right Tea Partiers, religious extremists and neocons whose views the self-described “severe conservative” echoed for so long, Romney tried to portray himself as a moderate who seeks world peace through prosperity.
He disappointed followers who expected him to hammer the president on the apparent confusion surrounding the Benghazi attack, allegations of security leaks and reports that the administration had agreed to bilateral talks with Iran (which the president denied).
Moderator Bob Scheiffer of CBS asked about red lines and whether an Iranian attack on Israel would be tantamount to an attack on the United States.
Obama twice called Israel “our true friend and greatest ally in the region” and said, “If Israel is attacked I will stand with Israel... As long as I am president Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. A nuclear Iran is a threat to our national security as it is to Israel’s.”
Romney agreed. “We stand with Israel... we have their back,” he said, using the same term Obama had employed previously. The president also noted that he expects Egypt to “abide by its treaty with Israel; that is a red line for us.”
Romney didn’t even repeat his old line accusing Obama of tossing Israel under the bus. He also denied that he wanted to toss the auto industry under the proverbial bus with his New York Times op-ed “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
It was an incredibly transparent bid for votes in Ohio, a critical swing state where he is trailing the president but moving up.
Romney refused to rise to Obama’s persistent accusations of inconsistency and outright falsehood.
While deftly exposing Romney as a shape-shifter on foreign policy, the president offered little insight into what he himself would do in a second term about bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the peace table, what he meant about having Israel’s back, how his policies on Iran might change and how he would deal with the changes rocking the Arab world.
Obama welcomed Romney’s new-found agreement on policies like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, drones, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Syria, Libya and going after Muammar Gaddafi and Osama bin Laden.
The old Romney had criticized the administration for being too quick to call for Hosni Mubarak’s exit; the new play-it-safe Romney endorsed the president’s response.
Romney reminded me of Groucho Marx’s famous line: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like ’em... well, I have others.”
REPUBLICANS THIS year have avoided any mention of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney – except for a single reference Monday night by Romney that he disagreed with something Bush did. So Obama reminded everyone of how the old Romney used to praise Bush’s economic policy and had called Cheney a man of “great wisdom and judgment,” implying that a Romney presidency would be Bush III.
“You keep trying to air-brush history, governor,” Obama said at one point. After a long Romney exposition taking credit for Massachusetts’ achievements in education, Obama pointed out that those reforms happened “10 years before you took office, and then you cut funding.”
Obama kept hitting on Romney’s inconsistencies during the many stages of his campaign for the presidency.
He repeatedly accused his opponent of being “all over the map” on foreign policy, and “you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s.” At another point the president said, “Nothing Governor Romney just said is true... the biggest whopper of this campaign.”
As Romney kept revising and rewriting his old positions, I imagine some Jewish listeners were wondering: If he is so flexible and can change his mind on so many other issues, how can he be trusted to give Israel the support he is promising as a candidate desperately fighting for Jewish votes in South Florida? After Monday night’s debate the big question remains the one posed to voters in Utah, a red state with a 72 percent Mormon population, by The Salt Lake City Tribune in its editorial explaining why it opposes Romney’s election: “Who is this guy, really, and what in the world does he truly believe?”