On Sunday 60 Minutes offered something of a debate preview, airing separate interviews conducted in the last week with Mitt Romney and President Obama. The interviews covered everything from Romney’s response to accusations of flip-flopping (he listed positions Obama’s changed his mind on) to differences in their bedtime routines (Romney prays, Obama gazes at D.C. from the Truman Balcony). On the topic of foreign policy, Romney took the opportunity to criticize Obama for not supporting Israel strongly enough, saying the president is making a “mistake” by failing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during this week’s U.N. General Assembly. “It sends a message throughout the Middle East that somehow we distance ourselves from our friends,” he said.
When asked to respond to Romney’s attacks on his Middle East policy, and specifically the suggestion that the U.S. should be more aggressive with Iran, Obama shot back:
Well, let’s see what I’ve done since I came into office. I said I’d end the war in Iraq. I did. I said that we’d go after Al Qaeda. They’ve been decimated in the Fatah. That we’d go after bin Laden. He’s gone. So I’ve executed on my foreign policy. And it’s one that the American people largely agree with. So if Gov. Romney is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so.
Unfortunately for Romney, the scheduled 60 Minutes interviews happened to take place during what was probably the worst week of his campaign — though Romney still isn’t acknowledging that. When Scott Pelley asked, “how do you turn this thing around?,” Romney replied, “Well, it doesn’t need a turnaround. We’ve got a campaign which is tied with an incumbent president to the United States.” He went on to downplay the secret fund-raiser footage, which didn’t sit well with Pelley:
Romney: That’s not … that’s not the campaign. That was me, right? I — that’s not a campaign.
Pelley: You are the campaign —
Romney: I’ve got a very effective campaign. It’s doing a very good job. But not everything I say is elegant. And I want to make it very clear, I want to help 100 percent of the American people.
Touching on the same topic of President Obama’s alleged gaffe from last week, Steve Kroft asked Obama if he still believes an outsider can change the way Washington operates. While earlier in the week the president said on Univision that not passing immigration reform was the “biggest failure” of his term, he told Kroft that his inability to usher in a new era of bipartisan cooperation is his “biggest disappointment.” “As president I bear responsibility for everything,” he said, though he did put some of the blame on Republicans:
When I first came into office, the head of the Senate Republicans say, “My number one priority is making sure President Obama’s a one term president.” Now, after the election, either he will have succeeded in that goal or he will have failed at that goal. Either way, my expectation is, my hope is, that that’s no longer their number one priority. And I’m hoping that after the smoke clears and the election season’s over that that spirit of cooperation comes more to the fore.
Obama may be optimistic about an end to what he calls the constant “political slugfest,” but for the time being we’re still in for plenty of partisan attacks, as the Romney campaign underscored on Sunday night. After the interview aired, a Romney spokesman took one more shot at the president, saying Obama “just doesn’t get it … [His] greatest failure — by far — is his broken promise to fix the economy.”