Mitt Romney Is Not the New John Kerry

If there’s anything anyone remembers about the 2004 election, it’s the Bush campaign’s vicious attacks on John Kerry’s foreign policy record. From his Iraq War vote to his decorated service in Vietnam, the Bush campaign worked to tarnish Kerry’s bona fides and present him as someone unfit to lead the country during a time of war. By the end of the election, when the polls were still close, Team Bush was openly floating the idea that the United States would face a terrorist attack if Kerry was elected president. “If we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we’ll get hit again—that we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States,” Dick Cheney said in a speech to supporters.

Writing for Politico, Mike Allen and Jim VandeHai see a repeat of this in Team Obama’s attacks on Mitt Romney. Indeed, they go as far as to call it the “Kerry-ization” of Romney and his campaign. Here’s their explanation:

Romney—whose convention speech didn’t include a salute to the troops or a reference to Afghanistan, where about 75,000 Americans are still at war—is getting hit almost daily now by Democratic attacks that he is wobbly and therefore untrustworthy on national security.

It’s the same critique Republicans used to undermine Kerry to devastating effect eight years ago—and the Obama campaign plans to use the run-up to the presidential debates to make a major issue of Romney’s surprising convention stumble.

Democrats are hitting Romney on national security, but it's not the same critique aimed at Kerry eight years ago. Kerry wasn’t attacked for being “wobbly” as much as he was hit for not being aggressive enough. Remember, the core of Kerry’s critique was that Bush had an overly militaristic approach to terrorism, and was an ineffective manager of the war in Iraq. This was a change from Kerry’s previous, hawkish rhetoric. The response, from Republicans, was that this inconsistency proved that only Bush had the “resolve” to protect America in a dangerous world.

The Obama campaign isn’t concerned with Romney’s resolve, and has shied away from attacking his “wobbliness.” Rather, they’ve focused their fire on his inexperience and belligerence, while touting Obama’s record on Iraq, Afghanistan, and terrorism. Here’s how Buzzfeed described it:

Privately, Obama allies will make case that Romney and Ryan possess an almost Palin-esque naivete to the world. Publicly, too: Senator John Kerry linked Romney’s comments on Russia as the number one geopolitical threat with Palin’s comment on seeing that country from Alaska. Romney appears “reckless” and “out of touch,” as one campaign official put it.

“Kerry-ization” would be an attack on Romney’s inconsistency. But the former Massachusetts governor has shown a fair amount of message discipline—he wants a more aggressive foreign policy that confronts Iran, antagonizes Russia, and hews close to the Israeli government. The actual Obama approach is to note Romney’s heated rhetoric and lack of experience. Judging from the most recent CNN survey, which shows wide public trust in Obama’s ability to handle foreign policy, it seems to be working.