SARASOTA, Fla. — An hour after President Obama said he couldn't "change Washington from the inside" at a forum hosted by Univision in Miami, Mitt Romney took to the stage at an outdoor rally here Thursday afternoon and accused the president of "surrender" — an attack, his aides say, that will become a major part of his campaign's message in coming days.
"The president today threw in the white flag of surrender again," Romney said. "He said he can't change Washington from inside. He can only change it from outside. Well, we're gonna give him that chance in November; he's going outside."
As the crowd cheered, Romney added, "I can change Washington, I will change Washington, we'll get the job done from the inside!"
Much of the audience had been waiting for the candidate's arrival all afternoon, and were likely hearing about Obama's remarks for the first time from Romney. Shortly after the rally, Obama campaign spokesperson Lis Smith issued a statement accusing the Republican of "desperation" and "taking the president's words wildly out of context."
The president's comment came as Obama made the case that public engagement is required for elected officials to accomplish big things.
"You can't change Washington from the inside," Obama said during a town hall that was live-streamed on Univision. "You can only change it from the outside. That’s how I got elected, and that’s how the big accomplishments like health care got done, was because we mobilized the American people to speak out."
But critics quickly seized on the first part of the president's comment, an unusual statement for the most powerful man in Washington, in its most central job.
According to an aide, Romney learned of Obama's remarks during his brief ride from a local fundraiser to the rally here, and he decided to add a riff on it to his stump speech.
Another aide added that they would plan to use the gaffe to reopen an argument about whether the competency of the president.
"He said he wasn’t up to the job of being president," the aide said. “Presidents need to force change, and that’s what Gov. Romney will do.”