As the potentially critical Illinois primary approaches on Tuesday, Mitt Romney used his money-raising prowess and organizational heft to bolster the core argument that he is the candidate best able to beat Barack Obama.
When Fox News Sunday host Bret Baier pointed out that Romney had far outspent his competition without closing the deal with Republican primary voters, Romney offered no apologies.
“Ultimately if I’m the nominee I will have to go up against an Obama organization that is talking about raising $1 billion, so we need a nominee that has the organization and can raise the money to be competitive with President Obama, to make sure we can get our message out,” Romney said. “This is not about having a shoe-string operation. It’s about having an operation that can be competitive with Obama and beat him.”
In keeping with that focus, Romney targeted his criticisms on Obama’s “failed policies,” taking only sporadic shots at his primary opponents. Recent turmoil in Afghanistan is largely the result of Obama’s failed leadership, he argued, citing the president’s inability to engage constructively with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, his misguided policy of setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, and his failure to send enough troops to the “Afghan surge” of the past two years.
When asked if a President Romney would accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. troops as both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have recently suggested they might consider, Romney said it depended on conditions on the ground.
“We saw a similarly failed withdrawal from Iraq, because this president simply does not have experience in tough negotiations,” Romney said. “That is showing again in the lack of leadership and results in Afghanistan.”
On the issue of Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, Romney similarly criticized Obama for only recently putting “crippling sanctions” in place, and for failing to support dissidents who rallied against the Tehran government after a fraudulent presidential election in 2009.
He brushed aside Obama’s criticism that the Republican candidates had been far too casual recently in talking about attacking Iran. “There is nothing casual about Iran having nuclear weapons, or fissile material that they could give to Hamas or Hezbollah,” said Romney, who argued that the administration has been too reluctant to discuss a military option to deny Tehran the bomb.
Domestically, Romney sought to capitalize on the recent steep spike in gasoline prices, saying Obama ran on a platform of raising energy costs, and is getting his wish. Romney reiterated his support for the testing requirements in the 2001 “No Child Left Behind Act,” but promised as president to push back against a federal teachers’ union that has too much power and often “overwhelms” states and local school districts.
In one of his rare swipes at his competition, Romney played up his status as a Washington outsider. “A couple of guys running against me spent their lives in the legislature,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s not the kind of leadership we need in Washington today. We need someone who has real experience as a leader, not because they debated it in a subcommittee, but because he has lived it.”