President Barack Obama today shrugged off an overheard private conversation with Russian President Dimitri Medvedev in which he suggested he'd be more "flexible" on missile defense after his re-election.
But the frantic Democratic reaction to his comments, and an intense effort to turn a presidential gaffe into a partisan food-fight, belies the official White House dismissal of the incident.
Obama's principal Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, saw Obama's promise of flexiblity on missile defense after his reelection as major sign of weakness. "This is a president who was telling us one thing and doing something else and is planning on doing something even more frightening," Romney said in an interview on CNN's The Situation Room yesterday, calling Russia the United States' “number one geopolitical foe.”
Democrats and Obama's campaign team took the opportunity to, in a classic political reflex, to attack rather than defend, releasing a barrage of tweets and eight emailed press releases, including these:
-GENERAL WES CLARK STATEMENT ON MITT ROMNEY'S ASSERTION THAT RUSSIA IS “WITHOUT QUESTION, OUR NUMBER ONE GEOPOLITICAL FOE”
-SECRETARY OF THE NAVY RICHARD DANZIG: ROMNEY’S RUSSIA STATEMENTS INCONSISTENT AND DISCONNECTED FROM REALITY
-AMBASSADOR TIMOTHY ROEMER: ROMNEY’S RUSSIA STATEMENTS NAÏVE AND POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS
-FORMER TOP PENTAGON OFFICIAL: ROMNEY’S RUSSIA STATEMENTS ‘RECKLESS’
-ICYMI: Clark, Danzig, Roemer, Kahl Criticize Romney's Russia Remark
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also addressed Romney's criticism during his press briefing today saying, "The President has made clear that we don't need to go back to a type of Cold War mind-set where we are unable to work with the Russians on any issues of common interest, but rather it's in the interest of the United States to work cooperatively with the Russians. And that's what he's going to do."
The Democrats "protest too much," said Richard Grenell, the U.S. spokesperson at the United Nations under President George W. Bush. "The Democrat freak-out on the president’s Russia trip is helping show how worried they are about the president’s major flub.”
Obama's remark has already prompted outrage from Republicans, who asked what other deals with foreign leaders are being kept from the American people. The Republican National Committee released a video asking "what else is on Obama's agenda after the election that he isn't telling you?"
But Republicans and the Romney campaign see the Democratic response as a short-term effort to what will be a long-term problem for Obama. His promise of more flexibility to Russia — still the subject of much distrust by the American public who grew up during the Cold War — is easy fodder for an October attack ad. And his comment plays into the latest Republican lines of attack — that he's a typical politician who is going to unleash his inner-most liberal if reelected.
"The truth is the president’s unapologetic explanation is a desperate attempt by Obama to hide the proof of a larger issue — he is ready to unleash his most liberal, anti-growth, big-government policies but he won’t tell voters about them until he’s reelected," said RNC spokesperson Kirsten Kukowski. "Think taxes, cap and trade, more concessions to foreign countries, EPA regulations and more realities Obama pollsters have told him he can’t embrace until a second term. That’s change alright, just not the kind he’s selling to the American people.”