BUZZARDS BAY, Mass. — Things had been going so well. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, after a convincing win over President Barack Obama in last week’s debate in Denver, had been surging in the polls, appealing on the stump, and had even mustered the confidence to set out a major foreign policy agenda.
In his speech at Virginia Military Institute on Monday, Romney harshly criticized the Obama administration for failing to lead in the world.
But all good things must come to an end, and Romney is already facing a backlash against his new persona, and from some surprising sources.
On Wednesday, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul wrote an op-ed piece for CNN in which he pretty much dismantled the initiatives laid out by Romney at VMI.
Paul has been a staunch Romney supporter, despite his close familial connection to a former Romney foe; he is the son of Ron Paul, the libertarian gadfly who mounted a spirited, if unsuccessful, bid for the Republican presidential nomination this spring.
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Romney’s foreign policy speech centered on two major themes: the need to arm the Syrian rebels, and the even greater need for America to assume its rightful place as the leader of the free world and major shaper of world events.
Rand Paul takes issue with the Republican challenger on both of these points.
At times, I have been encouraged by Romney's foreign policy,” writes Paul. “I agree with his call to end the war in Afghanistan sooner rather than later and with his skepticism of, and call for reform in, foreign aid, but I am a bit dismayed by his foreign policy speech Monday, titled ‘Mantle of Leadership.’”
Romney’s call for a more “bellicose” policy in the Middle East and refusal to consider defense cuts were two of Paul’s major objections.
“While I would always stand up for America and preserve our ability to defend ourselves, a less aggressive foreign policy along with an audit of the Pentagon could save tens of billions of dollars each year without sacrificing our defense,” he wrote.
He also disagreed with Romney’s call to arm the Syrian rebels.
“I do not, however, support a call for intervention in Syria,” he wrote. “Is this really in our vital national interest? We’ve been 10 years in Afghanistan and we can't identify friend from foe. Do you think we can, with certainty, identify friend and foe in Syria?”
Good questions, and ones to which Romney has yet to respond. Meanwhile, Rand Paul continues to campaign for the Republican ticket, as one of their more prominent surrogates.
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Another element in the Romney makeover since the Denver debate has been a concerted attempt to shed his robotic image. He has been dotting his stump speeches with touching anecdotes about people he has met on the campaign trail.
One of these involved Glenn Doherty the Navy Seal who was killed in the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya. In an amusing tale of accidentally crashing a neighborhood Christmas party, Romney ran into an interesting young man who had skied at some of the same places, and done a lot of the same things that Romney had.
"You can imagine how I felt when I found out that he was one of the two former Navy SEALs killed in Benghazi on Sept. 11th," said Romney, choking up a bit as he spoke.
But Romney’s tribute to Doherty has not been appreciated by the slain SEAL’s family. Barbara Doherty, Glenn’s mother, told a Boston television station that she wanted Romney to stop his self-serving use of her family’s tragedy.
"I don't trust Romney," Barbara Doherty told WHDH 7. "He shouldn't make my son's death part of his political agenda. It's wrong to use these brave young men, who wanted freedom for all, to degrade Obama."
The Romney campaign has indicated that it will respect Mrs. Doherty’s wishes.
Romney is still riding the wave of his success in Denver, but with over three weeks to go before Election Day, anything could, and probably will, still happen.
(Watch GlobalPost correspondent Jean MacKenzie decode foreign policy and its rise in the US election race, below.)