Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) released a blistering statement late Wednesday after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
What did Romney say?
Noting that Russia's invasion is the "first time in 80 years that a great power has moved to conquer a sovereign nation," Romney said in a statement that Russia was emboldened by "tepid" responses by the U.S. in response to previous Russian aggression.
"Putin’s impunity predictably follows our tepid response to his previous horrors in Georgia and Crimea, our naive efforts at a one-sided ‘reset,’ and the shortsightedness of ‘America First,'" Romney said, referring to foreign policy initiatives of the Obama and Trump administrations.
“The ’80s called’ and we didn’t answer," he added, taking a direct shot at former President Barack Obama.
By invoking an unanswered call from the 1980s, Romney was referring to a pivotal moment in the 2012 presidential election. In March 2012, Romney described Russia as America's "number one geopolitical foe." Democrats seized on the remark as evidence that Romney was unprepared for the presidency because he lacked the foreign policy experience necessary for the job.
Obama then pounced during the final presidential debate. After Romney acknowledged the threat of al Qaeda, Obama delivered what may have been one of the most memorable and effective one-liner — ever — in a presidential debate.
"I’m glad that you recognize that al-Qaeda is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not al-Qaeda. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years," Obama told Romney at the time.
Election 2012 | Obama to Romney: Cold War Is Over - Third Presidential Debate | The New York Timeswww.youtube.com
Romney's remarks — and the critical debate moment that helped cement Obama's re-election — have been revisited several times over the last decade, especially when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and after Russia engaged in cyber-manipulation of the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.
Although Democratic strategists have since admitted that Romney was correct or "had a point," the biggest mea culpa came from CNN analyst Chris Cillizza on Tuesday. Cillizza called the 2012 debate moment a "mic drop" — but now he admits Romney was right.
In an essay published on Tuesday with the headline "It's time to admit it: Mitt Romney was right about Russia," Cillizza wrote, "What looked like a major flub during the 2012 campaign — and was used as a political cudgel by Obama — now looks very, very different." Earlier in the essay, Cillizza defined "different" by saying, "And by 'different,' I mean 'right.'"