JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — After somberly acknowledging the deaths of American Embassy workers in Libya, Mitt Romney launched into a full-throated offensive at a press conference Wednesday morning — reasserting his criticism that the Obama administration mishandled the developing regional crisis.
"I also believe the administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with a those who had breached our Embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions," Romney said, echoing a provocative statement the campaign released late Tuesday night. "It's never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values."
Romney was referring to a statement issued by the Cairo Embassy prior to the attacks Tuesday, in which officials apologized for an anti-Islam film circulating online that hurt Muslims' "religious feelings." When protesters attacked the Embassy, Romney pointed out, diplomats continued to reassert the apology from the Embassy's official Twitter account. (Those same Tweets also condemned the attacks.)
Romney was unwilling to give President Obama, who officially disowned the Embassy's statements, the benefit of the doubt.
"The White House distanced itself last night form the statement, saying it wasn't cleared from Washington," Romney said. "That reflects the mixed signals they're sending to the world."
The efforts to paint Obama as weak and dithering on foreign policy are consistent with an ongoing theme in Romney's message. Before announcing his bid for president, he published a book titled, "No Apology," and regularly accuses the president of "apologizing for America" to the rest of the world.
But on a day when other high-profile Republicans are releasing nonpartisan statements offering condolences to the victims' families — and leaving Obama's name out of it — Romney could risk looking like he's politicizing the tragedy.
But Romney rejected the notion that he should be un-allowed to engage in a debate on the issue.
"We have a campaign for the presidency of the United States and are speaking about the different courses we would each take with regards to the challenges that the world face," Romney said.
He added, "We have many places of distinction and differences, we join together in our condemnation of the attacks on American Embassies and the loss of American life and join in the sympathy for these people."
The initial reaction to Romney's approach — from pundits, and some foreign policy experts on both sides of the aisle — was that the statement was too aggressive too soon. But conservatives on Twitter responded approvingly to the tone.
After a week of playing defense, the Romney campaign appears determined to get on offense — even if it has to suffer the wrath of the establishment.