For the last couple of weeks, President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have sparred over their foreign policy credentials - specifically, rehashing the president's decision to order the raid that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden one year ago.
But there's nothing like a top-secret, middle-of-the-night trip to Afghanistan to remind voters back home of who's in charge.
From an airplane hangar in Bagram Air Field, the president told the American people last night, "The Iraq War is over. The number of our troops in harm's way has been cut in half, and more will be coming home soon. We have a clear path to fulfill our mission in Afghanistan, while delivering justice to al Qaeda."
His trip marked the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, and as ABC's Jake Tapper points out, also the nine-year anniversary of President George W. Bush's infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech. http://abcn.ws/K8DO1B
There was no such declaration from President Obama in his remarks yesterday, but rather an acknowledgement that "the tide has turned."
"One year ago, from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden," he said. "The goal that I set - to defeat al Qaeda, and deny it a chance to rebuild - is within reach."
With the Romney campaign putting the pressure on, the president's team is well aware that support for the war in Afghanistan is at an all-time low. An ABC News-Washington Post poll last month showed that two-thirds of American believed the war has not been worth fighting.
Obama has a 50 percent approval rating when it comes to his handling of the war, and ABC News pollster Gary Langer observed that, "The question for Obama is the extent to which his withdrawal strategy can continue to hold greater criticism at bay." http://abcn.ws/HJk956
Romney has his own challenges too, not the least of which is coming face to face with the advantages of presidential power. As The New York Times' Michael Shear notes: "Mr. Romney's Boston-based operation faces an incumbent president whose fearsome campaign machinery of 2008 is now bolstered by the incalculable advantages of the office Mr. Obama holds." http://nyti.ms/JOTC5w
Romney appeared yesterday outside a New York City firehouse along with the city's former Mayor Rudy Giuliani to re-iterate: "Of course I would have ordered the taking out of Osama bin Laden."
Though yesterday's unannounced trip by Obama was perhaps the most extreme example of the optics problem Romney will have to contend with throughout the campaign, it should be a wake-up call to the team in Boston.
ABC's Jake Tapper talked to George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America" about the president's secret trip. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/IVAxhV
ROMNEY ON AFGHANISTAN: "I am pleased that President Obama has returned to Afghanistan. Our troops and the American people deserve to hear from our President about what is at stake in this war," Romney said in a statement issued by his campaign last night. "Success in Afghanistan is vital to our nation's security. It would be a tragedy for Afghanistan and a strategic setback for America if the Taliban returned to power and once again created a sanctuary for terrorists."
HOW'S IT PLAYING?
Headlines from Wednesday morning:
-New York Times:
"Obama Signs Pact in Kabul, Turning Page in Long War" http://nyti.ms/IGBfQX
"Obama Signs Pact in Kabul … Outlines Plan to End War … Surprise Trip Also Marks Bin Laden's Death" http://wapo.st/K7bVa5
-Wall Street Journal:
"Obama: Surprise Afghan Trip Marks 'Historic Moment" http://on.wsj.com/Il7CD2 SPY-NOVEL TICK-TOCK: OBAMA'S SECRET TRIP. ABC's Richard Coolidge on how Obama smuggled the press corps to Afghanistan: "We rode a bus onto the tarmac where Air Force One was in shadow. No lights on, inside or out. We boarded. Just before midnight, President Obama arrived. We didn't see him, but more Secret Service agents boarded, the door was closed, and we were off. No lights on in the cabin for takeoff and the initial ascent. All window shades remained down. In fact, we would not see daylight for more than 24 hours. The plan was to arrive in Afghanistan after dark and leave before daybreak." http://abcn.ws/IDnBBb
ABC's RICK KLEIN: There's no reason to pretend to be shocked that politics might have played a role in sending President Obama on a stealth trip to sign a document negotiated in advance, and give a speech on Afghanistan's future at 4 a.m. local time. Obama's mission will be accomplished if voters take away two things from these last few days. One: The president killed Osama bin Laden. Two: The president ended two wars.
ABC's AMY WALTER: Virginia, Virginia, Virginia: Forget Florida. Virginia is the hottest battleground state this year. Romney stumps here today, and then with popular Gov. Bob McDonnell by his side tomorrow. Obama hits Richmond for his campaign "kick-off" on Saturday. The state has a bit of everything: fast growing exurbs that flipped Democratic in 2005-08 then went Republican in 2009-10; a growing Hispanic population in Northern Virginia; a shrinking but crucial rural vote: and a solid African-American vote.
VIDEO OF THE DAY: COOL POLITICS. In the latest Top Line, Amy Walter and David Chalian discuss the intersection of celebrity and politics, plus stars descend on D.C. Sofia Vergara talks about playing with Bo; Elizabeth Banks marvels at Obama's "badass" performance last year while the Osama bin Laden raid was underway. http://yhoo.it/K1mqJ4
with ABC's Chris Good ( @c_good)
GINGRICH, A RETROSPECTIVE. Newt Gingrich will formally suspend his presidential campaign today, and ABC's embedded Gingrich reporter Elicia Dover looks back on its strange twists: "When he was at the top in the polls, back in November, he said, 'This is a wild race, OK? Who knows what the polls are going to be two months from now?' Just a month later, Gingrich told ABC News' Jake Tapper, 'I'm going to be the nominee,' a comment he later said was a 'mistake.'" http://abcn.ws/IzFkJE
NEWT'S GREATEST HITS. ABC's Jonathan Karl looks at more of Gingrich's "grandiose" moments: "And that's when Gingrich, a man often attacked for his grandiosity, made perhaps the most grandiose promise ever made by a front-running presidential candidate. 'By the end of my second term,' Gingrich announced, pausing to let that thought sink in, 'we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American.'" http://abcn.ws/Imi25i
NEWT: NOT ENDORSING ROMNEY. Gingrich is out, but he's not on board with the presumptive nominee just yet, ABC's Elicia Dover reports: "Newt Gingrich will not officially endorse Mitt Romney Wednesday - that will take place in the coming weeks, Gingrich campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond told ABC News. … Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich will be in Virginia, but their paths will not cross Wednesday." http://abcn.ws/IHQaqA
VIDEO: OBAMA CAMPAIGN RESURFACES GINGRICH ATTACKS. ABC's Devin Dwyer on the latest YouTube video from President Obama's campaign: "We always said during the nasty GOP primary spat between Newt and Mitt that their attacks would come back to haunt them - and here they are. This minute and a half spot is a "greatest hits" reel of Gingrich hits on Romney, all playing directly into the Obama story line of the governor as a dishonest, secretive, out of touch American." http://youtu.be/Z1jMaeoBrCs
RICHARD GRENELL RESIGNS FROM ROMNEY CAMPAIGN. Richard Grenell, Mitt Romney's openly gay foreign-policy spokesman, has resigned his post before really starting in the role, ABC's Arlette Saenz and Michael Falcone report: "Shortly after the news of his hiring broke, Grenell was criticized not for his sexual orientation but for critical remarks he'd made on Twitter about Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista, Democratic women and the media. He later scrubbed the posts from his Twitter account. But some social conservatives took issue with the Romney campaign's hiring of an openly homosexual man." http://abcn.ws/JQDhjy
DEMOCRATS ON GRENELL: Democrats, including a member of the Obama campaign team, immediately pounced on the incident as an example of the Romney campaign caving to anti-gay forces on the right. "Today we learned that in the year 2012, a Republican nominee for President can't have a gay person as spokesman," the Obama campaign's digital director, Teddy Goff, tweeted. And Bill Burton, a former White House spokesman who is now the head of a Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA Action, said in an interview with ABC News that Grenell's departure was a "show of incredible weakness on the part of Mitt Romney." Burton pronounced it a sign that Romney would be and the "beck and call" of whichever individuals or groups he needs to win in November.
VIDEO: 'MITT ROMNEY YOU'RE A RACIST!' A woman yells over Mitt Romney's remarks with Rudy Giuliani outside a New York City fire station…and keeps yelling. http://abcn.ws/K0oeCc
DONATIONS RAIN ON ROMNEY. ABC's Shushannah Walshe reports on big-time GOP donors lining up behind Romney: "Several Romney fundraisers are now saying many of the big donors that had been staying 'on the sidelines' in the primary are coming to their camp and writing big checks. Romney is ramping up his fundraising schedule, focusing on events with high-dollar donors in the Northeast and elsewhere around the country, in between campaign stops." http://abcn.ws/Jn0vIs
OBAMA APPEARS IN WARREN AD. In her latest TV ad, Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren uses footage of Obama praising her in the Rose Garden, Politico reports. http://politi.co/IpLJX8 VIDEO: http://youtu.be/D7K1rrWdScg
OUR LAZY CONGRESS. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank notes the House's light election-year schedule: "By the time the Republican-led House returns next week, members will have been working in Washington on just 41 of the first 127 days of 2012-and that was the busy part of the year. They are planning to be on vacation-er, doing 'constituent work'-17 of the year's remaining 34 weeks, and even when they are in town the typical workweek is three days." http://wapo.st/IGBb3N
ROB PORTMAN: IT'S NOT ABOUT THE SIZZLE. The Ohio senator and former OMB director reacts to VP criticism, ABC's Gregory Simmons reports: "Vice Presidential contender and Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) has fired back at critics who say he's too boring to be Mitt Romney's running-mate. 'Well I like to think I am a serious legislator and trying to get things done. That's my goal in life, to get things done. It's not about sizzle for me,' Portman told Fox News' 'Special Report with Bret Baier". http://abcn.ws/IG5lUO
CHRISTIE CAMPAIGNS WITH WALKER. Ahead of his June 5 recall election, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker got some help from New Jersey's Chris Christie, ABC's Shushannah Walshe reports: "In Green Bay, Christie predicted a Walker win on June 5th and said that victory will 'not only empower him to continue to do the things to move Wisconsin forward,' but said it will also send a message to other politicians 'all over the country.'" http://abcn.ws/Jdloru
THE MOST ELUSIVE ENDORSEMENT? The New York Times chronicles the efforts of Romney and Obama to win the favor of America's top independent: "On Tuesday, Mr. Romney showed up at the mayor's philanthropic foundation on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for a secret breakfast meeting. Over coffee and juice, Mr. Romney made clear that he was there to pick the mayor's brain. 'Tell me what's on your mind,' he said, according to aides who were briefed on the 30-minute discussion, which touched on immigration, gun control and education policy." http://nyti.ms/JNej0J
NOTABLE: 'HEY GIRL, IT'S PAUL RYAN.' Meanwhile, no one's calling the Budget chairman a boring VP pick: A new Tumblr page compares him to Ryan Gosling, ABC's Amy Bingham reports. http://abcn.ws/JNd2a5
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX:
SHOULD FCC TAKE ON MURDOCH? After a British panel found Rupert Muroch "not a fit person" to run a media conglomerate, Citizens for Responsibility and Washington thinks the next shoe should drop in Washington: "Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski asking the FCC to revoke the 27 Fox broadcast licenses News Corp. holds in the United States. Under U.S. law, broadcast frequencies may be used only by people of good 'character,' who will serve 'the public interest,' and speak with 'candor.' Significant character deficiencies may warrant disqualification from holding a license.
@jgm41 : Worth reading RT All citizens have a stake in the integrity of elections http://www.chron.com/opinion/outlook/article/All-citizens-have-a-stake-in-the-integrity-of-3525938.php?cmpid=twitter
- Mitt Romney holds a campaign event in Chantilly, Va. this morning and attend a private fundraiser in Pentagon City, Va. tonight.
- Newt Gingrich will officially suspend his campaign in Arlington, Va. this afternoon.
- Ron Paul holds a town hall meeting at California State University, Fullerton.
-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie participates a town hall meeting in Garfield, N.J.
Check out The Note's Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV