Ed Gillespie, a senior campaign adviser to Mitt Romney, struggled to clarify the Republican nominee’s position on Russia during a television appearance Friday, marking a return to foreign policy turf on which Romney has already been chided.
Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Gillespie, a former counselor to President George W. Bush and chairman of the Republican National Committee, was pressed by Chuck Todd to draw a distinction between Romney and President Barack Obama’s foreign policy positions, including on Syria. Gillespie said that Romney supports arming the Syrian rebels, but Todd reminded him that the former Massachusetts governor did not endorse direct involvement from the United States — making his position virtually indistinguishable from Obama’s.
But Gillespie waded into even murkier territory when it came to Russia. He criticized Vladimir Putin for “not being helpful at all to the United States” and took aim at the Obama administration for allowing U.S. relations with Russia to grow increasingly frosty — seemingly contradictory assertions, as Todd pointed out:
GILLESPIE: And I think when you look at Russia and the relationship with Russia, the so-call reset button, it’s clear that the Russians are not being helpful at all to the United States, and that that effort to reset has failed.
TODD: So what you’re saying is, get confrontational? Let’s talk about Russia. So, get more confrontational with Russia? Is that the difference? How do you do that?
GILLESPIE: Well, I think what it is, Chuck, is to try to work with them to align our interests more, and to reduce their hostility, which this president has not been able to do. Clearly, despite his pledges during the campaign and afterward that we were going to have this great relationship and Russia was going to be better with Russia. It is not better with Russia today than it was when President Obama took office. Do you think it’s better today, the relationship with Russia, than when President Obama took office?
TODD: No, I don’t. But what I’m saying, how do you change it? Is more confrontation better?
GILLESPIE: I think that Russia understands that when there’s a strong president who can work with Germany, our allies in Europe and France, you can get better results from Russia if you have a strong leader who is working with our allies in Europe. They’ll respond to that.
Gillespie’s call for a restoration in U.S.-Russia relations conflicted with Romney’s contention in March that Russia is the U.S.’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” It also represented a rare instance in which the Romney camp acknowledged a need to strengthen ties with Europe. Romney routinely cautions voters on the campaign trail that the United States must avoid going down the same path as Europe, a point he made again earlier this week when discussing national security before a crowd of veterans.
Watch the exchange:
Tom Kludt is a newswriter for TPM. A former research intern and polling fellow for TPM, he lives and works in New York City. Tom graduated summa cum laude from the University of South Dakota in May of 2010 with a B.A. in Political Science and History. He can be reached at Tom (at) talkingpointsmemo.com.