This week, the campaign was unexpectedly dominated by a debate over Russia policy. The back-and-forth was sparked by an embarrassing "hot mic" incident on Monday at a summit on Seoul, when President Barack Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more "space" to tackle controversial issues such as missile defense after the election. "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility," he told the outgoing Russian leader, who promised to "transmit this information to Vladimir."
Mitt Romney was quick to seize on the incident to bolster his argument that Obama has ignored the security threat posed by Russia. He went a bit over the top with the rhetoric, however, telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "this is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe, they fight every cause for the world's worst actors, the idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed."
Democrats -- and a few Republicans -- disputed the notion that Russia is the nation's primary foe. "You don't have to be a foreign policy expert to know that the Cold War ended 20 years ago and that the greatest threat that the president has been fighting on behalf of the American people is the threat posed by al Qaeda," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
Romney doubled down on his charge against the president with an op-ed in Foreign Policy, writing that "In his dealings with the Kremlin, as in his dealings with the rest of the world, President Obama has demonstrated breathtaking weakness -- and given the word ‘flexibility' a new and ominous meaning."
A group of Romney's senior advisors also published an open-letter on the website of the National Review detailing a list of the president's main foreign policy failings. The Obama campaign's senior foreign policy advisors pushed pushed back with a letter to Romney published in FP demanding that Romney "clarify exactly how and why you would depart from many of President Obama's policies."
Romney even got into it with Medvedev himself this week. The Russian president said the candidate's rhetoric "smacks of Hollywood" and advised him to "check his watch" to see that it's no longer the 1970s. The Romney campaign struck back with a press release calling him "President Medvedev (D-Russia)" and accusing him of "campaigning for Obama."
Santorum's Jelly Belly foreign policy
Rick Santorum chose an unusual venue on Thursday for a national security-focused address meant to reinvigorate his struggling campaign: The Jelly Belly headquarters in Fairfield, California. Attempting to associate himself with the foreign-policy acumen of GOP icon and famous jellybean fiend Ronald Reagan, Santorum made the case that "Of all of the failings of this administration, of all of the failings, perhaps the greatest is on national security."
Santorum also seized on the hot mic gaffe: "Ronald Reagan didn't whisper to Gorbachev, ‘Give me some flexibility.... He walked out of Iceland and said, ‘You either do this, or we have no deal.'"
H.W. goes all in
While Santorum while trying to channel the Gipper, his vice-president and successor George H.W. Bush officially endorsed Romney -- no surprise as he had publicly praised the candidate earlier in the race and his son Jeb endorsed last week. The 87-year-old (mis)quoted Kenny Rogers when asked about Romney's rivals, saying, ‘It's time when to hold ‘em and time when to fold ‘em."
The meeting raised questions as to when George W. Bush will make an endorsement in the race. "I haven't met with President George W. Bush. We speak from time to time," Romney said.
Newt loses his sugar daddy
The struggling campaign of Newt Gingrich, who has won only South Carolina and his home state of Georgia so far, has been kept afloat by the largesse of Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The staunch Israel hawk has donated over $20 million to Gingrich's Super PAC. It appears, however, that Adelson's generosity has its limits. Speaking at the Jewish Federations of North America's annual TribeFest conference in Las Vegas this week, the billionaire said this week that Gingrich may be "at the end of the line" since mathematically, "he can't get anywhere near the number" of delegates needed. Adelson has reportedly been reaching out to supporters of the Romney campaign.
Gingrich, the onetime frontrunner, laid off one-third of his staff this week.
Is Paul coming around to Romney?
Ron Paul, currently running in fourth place with a total of 50 delegates in the bag, has previously suggested that foreign policy might be an obstacle to him throwing his support behind Romney. This week, however, Paul paid the frontrunner the mildest of compliments in an interview with Bloomberg television: "I think Mitt Romney is more likely to be more willing to listen to his advisers.... If he decides he wants to go and bomb Iran, maybe he might listen to somebody else. I'm afraid the other [candidates] would just go do it anyway."
What to watch for:
Maryland, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia hold primaries on Tuesday. Romney is favored to win all three contests. (Santorum isn't on the ballot in D.C.)
After that, it's a long wait until a set of five northeastern primaries on April 23. Santorum's Gotterdämmerung may very well come in his home state of Pennsylvania, where the latest polls show him in a statistical dead heat with Romney.
The latest from FP:
Romney's Russia op-ed.
The Obama campaign's response.
Scott Clement says that Americans really don't think of Russia as an enemy anymore.
Daniel Drezner on the dirty, little secret of second-term presidents.
Michael Cohen argues the president's real constitutional overreach wasn't healthcare, it was Libya.
In honor of Santorum's Jelly Belly address, Uri Friedman recaps the year in political food fights.