Romney’s pitch: Obama is a ‘European’ leader

Romney’s pitch: Obama is a ‘European’ leader

There was not much about foreign policy in Mitt Romney’s official announcement of his candidacy today. He suggested that the president has been "hesitant" about supporting the Middle East’s revolutions and picked up on the "leading from behind" theme. (You have to wonder if whatever White House staffer suggested "leading from behind" to the New Yorker‘s Ryan Lizza realized they were scripting every GOP candidate’s first ad.) He also mentioned that the president had "traveled around the world to apologize for America" and had a zinger about the proposed U.S. withdrawal date from Afghanistan: "The Taliban may not have watches, but they have calendars."

Oddly, the region that got the most play in the short section on foreign affairs was not the Middle East, Central Asia, or China, but Europe. To his credit, Romney has avoided throwing in his lot with members of his party who have openly questioned President Obama’s citizenship or religion, but the former Massachusetts governor did repeatedly suggest that there’s a certain Continental flavor to the president’s leadership style.

He suggested that the president takes his cues and values not from the small towns of America, but from the "capitals of Europe." He said that Obama was proposing "European answers to American problems" and was treating Israel the way European countries do, with "suspicion and distrust."

At our recent Shadow Government event here at FP, the panelists suggested that a major challenge for the GOP field would be to make the case that Obama has made the country weaker and accepted the narrative of "American decline," without pandering to extremists who see him as not only un-American but anti-American.

Romney’s solution seems to be the label of "European," which, for the American electorate, carries the twin connotations of timidity in foreign affairs and socialist economic policies. (Though the stereotype also feels a little dated given that Western Europe’s major powers are, for the most part, currently ruled by conservative governments whose passion for austerity budgets is tempered only by their enthusiasm for bombing North Africa.)

The European attack may be a good way to play to the Republican base in the primary, but I wonder about it as a long-term strategy. American voters may feel threatened by terrorists from the Middle East, insurgents from Central Asia, illegal immigrants from Mexico, and workers from China. I’m not sure bureaucrats from Brussels pack the same rhetorical punch. We’ll see.