Mitt Romney insisted Friday that he would not attempt a third presidential run in 2016. But he sounded very much like the candidate he once was as he sharply criticized Hillary Rodham Clinton's record and denigrated the "Obama-Biden-Clinton" foreign policy as a "monumental bust."
Opening a foreign policy-focused conference with 300 of his top donors on Friday, Romney chided President Obama for "reaching out a hand of friendship to every nation and people," even those who have endangered U.S. interests, such as Iran and North Korea.
Romney said Obama had offered to meet with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un. A White House spokesman said that assertion was flatly untrue.
Noting Russia's recent incursion into and annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, he mocked Clinton's presentation of a "reset" button to Russian officials a few years ago — at a time when the Obama administration was trying to energize the relationship — and disputed her suggestion that she had been firm in challenging Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"Please," Romney said of the former secretary of State's approach toward Russia. "This from the woman who was gushing with smiles when she presented [Putin's] minion with her red reset button."
Romney, vilified in the 2012 campaign by Democrats as a wealthy and out-of-touch businessman, drew the line at wading into the controversy over Clinton's remarks about her personal wealth as she launched her book tour this week. (Asked why she and her husband had decided to make expensive speeches after they left office, she said she and Bill Clinton were "dead broke" when they left the White House and "struggled" to put together money for mortgages. Their 1990s-era debts had long been dispatched by the time she left office last year and began earning hundreds of thousands of dollars for appearances.)
"I'm not going to give any advice to Secretary Clinton," Romney said with a smile. "Politics is a rough-and-tumble process."
He made a swift pivot instead to her foreign policy record, saying that her "challenge will not be about wealth or poverty, but instead will be about her record as secretary of State."
"That record has been extraordinarily lacking and ineffective," Romney said Friday. "It is hard to think of a place in the world where our foreign policy interests were enhanced by virtue of her serving as secretary of State. And the eruption of challenges throughout the world just underscores the ineffectiveness of the foreign policy of the Obama administration, of which she was obviously a key part."
The former Massachusetts governor's three-day summit was intended in part to introduce five potential GOP 2016 candidates to his elite donors who are deciding which contender deserves their largess in 2016.
Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul all mingled with Romney's past donors in between panels and over cocktails. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will address the gathering on Saturday. Two potential Florida contenders — former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio — were invited but had scheduling conflicts.
Despite his losses in 2008 and 2012, loyalty to Romney continues to run deep in this crowd, particularly given the unsettled GOP presidential field for 2016.
Amid all the talk here of a "Draft Romney" movement, the former Massachusetts governor said it was "very nice and heartening to have people say such generous things, but I am not running, and they know it."
"The unavailable is always the most attractive, right?" Romney quipped. "That goes in dating as well."
The lone Democrat to address the group Friday was one of Clinton's potential Democratic challengers, former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Schweitzer has been needling Clinton lately, telling Time magazine that he would have been a better secretary of State than she was. On Friday, he told Republican donors in Utah that Clinton clearly misspoke when she talked about her wealth. "I'm not going to defend what she said," he said.
Schweitzer, who was introduced by Romney as a man of "extraordinary character," had much higher praise for his longtime GOP friend than for Clinton. In front of several hundred donors, Schweitzer bluntly told Romney that he hadn't recognized on television the man who ran against Obama for president.
"You are a funny guy, and you're easygoing, and Obama, he is not," Schweitzer said. "He's as stiff as a board, and you've got it going on."
But Schweitzer slayed the potential 2016 GOP field with his praise. If Romney ran again, he said, "he would be a giant in a field of midgets."
Twitter: @maeverestonCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times