BOCA RATON, Fla. — President Barack Obama attacked Mitt Romney again and again, on issues from foreign travel to domestic spending, at a foreign policy debate that doubled as the incumbent's last chance to personally recast the public's view of a suddenly strong challenger.
When the debate began, Obama charged that Romney's policies have "been all over the map" on Afghanistan, Iraq, and China, a phrase he returned to through the night.
When Romney did not bring up his own concerns about Russia, the president raised them for him, attacking Romney on his proclamation that Russia is the United State's greatest geopolitical foe.
“The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back," Obama deadpanned. In the same response, he explained Romney's foreign policy confusion with a slap in the face.
"I know you haven’t been in a position to actually execute foreign policy,” Obama reminded voters.
Where Romney played to the camera and to explaining his foreign policy vision, Obama saw the need to draw a contrast — or at times the similarity between his and Romney's positions, seeking to disqualify Romney not as an extremist — a picture he has sought to paint in some domestic policy areas — but as a bumbler unready for the world's complex challenges. He pointed to Romney's past comments on everything from Libya to the killing of Osama bin Laden, charging that Romney would have made incorrect, overcautious calls on key foreign policy choices.
“He doesn’t have different ideas," Obama said to try to disarm Romney's rhetoric on what he'd do in Syria, saying his administration is doing the same.
Obama then took Romney to task for his oft-repeated worry that the Navy is at the smallest size since 1916.
"We also have fewer horses and bayonets," Obama said condescendingly. "The nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. Ships that go underwater — nuclear submarines. So the question is not a game of battleship where we're counting ships."
On Pakistan, Obama lumped Romney with Vice President Joe Biden as timid about going into Pakistan to get bin Laden. "Even some in my own party, including my current vice- president, had the same critique as you did," he said to Romney.
Romney's response to the second attack, which aides trotted out after each successive one was the simple line criticizing Obama for not having a second-term "attacking me is not an agenda," Romney said, in a line sure to find its way into a campaign ad.