Mitt Romney stood by his criticism of President Barack Obama's response to the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya, accusing the White House of sending "mixed signals" in the aftermath of violence that claimed the lives of the United States ambassador to Libya and three other foreign aid workers.
Speaking at an impromptu press conference in Jacksonville, Fla., Romney condemned Tuesday's attacks as "disgusting" and "outrageous," but also attacked the Obama administration for standing by a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo condemning "efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims," which he claimed was an "apology" for American values.
Late Tuesday, Romney issued a statement saying it was "disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."
But the embassy's statement was issued before violence broke out—prompting Democrats to claim Romney launched a misguided political attack. Asked whether he "jumped the gun" in attacking Obama before he knew all the facts, Romney defended his response, insisting the administration's initial statement was "reiterated" after the embassy in Cairo had been "breached" and the administration stood by the "inappropriate" statement for hours.
"It's a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values," Romney told reporters. "It's never too early for the U.S. government to condemn attacks on Americans and defend our values. ... When our grounds are being attacked, being breached, the first response of the United States must be outrage."
In defending his own response, Romney said, "I don't think we ever hesitate when we see something that's a violation of our principles."
The Republican presidential candidate used the moment to attack Obama's overall record, saying his decisions have not been based on "sound foreign policy." He slammed Obama for "a lack of clarity" in his diplomatic approach.
"They clearly sent mixed messages to the world," Romney told reporters. "The statement that came from the administration—and the embassy is the administration—the statement that came from the administration was a statement which is akin to apology. And I think was a severe miscalculation."
Under fire for his Tuesday night response, Romney addressed reporters at his Jacksonville campaign office, where he had been scheduled to hold a rally. But after the White House announced Obama would address the ambassador's death, Romney aides abruptly reversed course, collecting campaign signs from supporters and escorting them out of the building so that he could make a statement to reporters first.
While Romney stood behind his initial criticism of Obama, not everybody on the Romney team appeared to agree. In an interview with National Journal's Major Garrett, John Sununu, a top Romney surrogate, said the campaign should have been more cautious.
"They probably should have waited," the former New Hampshire governor told National Journal. "You look at the way things unfolded, you look at the timing of it, they probably should have waited."