How Mitt Romney Is the Second Coming of Barry Goldwater

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Though they haven't gotten much attention yet, his warmongering ways will be a liability in the general election, just as Goldwater's were in 1964.

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Reuters (Romney); Getty Images (Goldwater)

Mitt Romney is delivering up so much delicious red campaign meat to Obamaland these days that I had to wonder whether they're already making plans for the reelection dinner party in Chicago. So I called a friend who is working for the president's reelection, and this person joyfully confirmed: yes, ol' Mitt is the gift that keeps on giving.

If Romney keeps giving like this, he may give the Obama campaign more than enough fodder to take out his candidacy on foreign policy alone. Most recently I wondered whether the Obama team would turn him into Michael Dukakis on the basis of his aide's Etch A Sketch gaffe. Now I wonder whether the better play isn't to cast Romney as Barry "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" Goldwater, whose trouncing by LBJ in 1964 had a lot to do with public fears that he was a warmonger.

I had already written about Romney's lurch rightward on foreign policy. Previously he has virtually threatened war with Iran and the perpetuation of war in Afghanistan. But Romney's remarks to CNN about Russia, calling Moscow "without question our number one geopolitical foe" and saying that the Russians "fight every cause for the world's worst actors," seemed to mark a new level of indiscretion for the hyperventilating former Massachusetts governor.

Set aside the merits of the comment. Yes, Obama did give Romney an opening when, mistakenly speaking through an open mike, the president suggested to his counterpart, Dimitri Medvedev, that he'd have more "flexibility" to negotiate missile defense and other issues after his reelection. And yes, the Russians are acting pretty aggressively these days; the reelection of the revanchist Vladimir Putin virtually ensures the tensions will continue. We also know that Romney is desperately tossing bouquets of toxic word-flowers at his right-wing base, trying to make up in aggressiveness what he lacks in conservative credentials.

But is it really smart politics for the all-but-certain GOP nominee to be appearing as a warmonger to a war-weary America? And at a time when Russia and the U.S. are already involved in something of a proxy war in Syria, as my colleague Jim Kitfield wrote this week? Certainly the Obama team doesn't think so, and they are gathering up every TV and Youtube clip of Romney's Goldwateresque statements right now.

They'll have their own word bouquet to deliver to the American public in the general election campaign.

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Michael Hirsh is chief correspondent for National Journal.

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