When your political opponent hands you a gift, take it.
That's precisely what Republicans did Monday after President Obama's comment to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, captured on open microphones at a security summit in South Korea s, that Obama's would have more negotiating room on missile defense after the U.S.'s November elections than before.
As the two leaders leaned in toward each other at the end of their meeting, above the clatter of camera shutters, Obama clearly tells Medvedev:
"This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility."
Obama was merely stating the obvious. Presidents are constrained by what they can do before an election by the political realities of U.S. campaigns.
For a Democratic president seeking re-election, it's the desire not to be perceived as weak on national security issues, or as giving too much away to geopolitical rivals and adversaries, that dictates more hawkish general election stances. Anything less would make it easier for Republicans to raise doubts about the Democrat as commander-in-chief.
Obama's comment not only made it easier for Republicans to play that card but also the play on the concerns of many voters' who continue to view the president as an enigma at best, and with suspicion at worst.
Republican attacks on Monday sought to expand the universe the president's comments applied to from foreign policy to virtually everything.
In a CNN.com report, Kirsten Kukowski, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman was quoted as saying:
"It's amazing what we find out about this president's policies when he thinks no one is listening and it begs the question: What else doesn't Obama want us to know about before he's reelected?"
Mitt Romney's presidential campaign went in a similar direction. A statement attributed to Romney said:
"President Obama had a revealing and unguarded moment when he was caught on tape telling Russia's president, 'This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.' President Obama signaled that he's going to cave to Russia on missile defense, but the American people have a right to know where else he plans to be 'flexible' in a second term. Higher taxes, more spending and increased debt are all on the table as long as Barack Obama is in the White House, despite what he says publicly. President Obama needs to level with the American public about his real agenda."
Sen. John McCain tweeted a slam that was something of a two-fer, that not only slammed Obama but tried to deflect from the GOP frontrunner any residual fallout from a Romney aide's epic gaffe:
Pres Obama tells Medvedev he'll be more "flexible" on missile defense - that's a real "Etch A Sketch" leader!