Mitt Romney is sounding more like a presidential candidate every day.
The former GOP nominee identified foreign policy, middle class wages and poverty as “three concerns that are foremost in my mind” in a speech to Mississippi Statue University students Wednesday night, according to excerpts provided to NBC News by his aides.
The text reads like a proto-stump speech and echoes the themes Romney brought up in his speech to the Republican National Committee in San Diego earlier this month.
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At the forefront is Romney’s belief that the intervening years since his presidential loss have vindicated his foreign policy warnings from the time, particularly his harsh criticism of the Obama administration’s outreach to Russia.
“Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cluelessly pressed a reset button for Russia, which smiled and then invaded Ukraine, a sovereign nation,” Romney said. “The Middle East and much of North Africa is in chaos. China grows more assertive and builds a navy that will be larger than ours in five years. We shrink our nuclear capabilities as Russia upgrades theirs.”
Some of Romney’s rhetoric is already standard fare for the 2016 field in general. Borrowing a line often used by conservative critics of the administration’s anti-terrorism policy, including Senator Ted Cruz and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Romney will criticize President Obama for not describing terrorist groups as Islamic in more explicit terms.
“I don’t know how the president expects to defeat the jihadists if he won’t even call them what they are,” Romney said.
Turning to the economy, Romney hit the same notes on income inequality and chronic poverty that he’s emphasized since moving towards a presidential bid.
“Short term, our economy is looking up,” Romney said. “But it is a lot better for the few, and pretty darn discouraging for the many. Incomes haven’t gone up in decades.”
It’s still an open question of what Romney’s policy prescriptions will be for these issues. Democrats and some Republicans have suggested dramatically expanding middle class tax credits, but the two sides differ on how to pay for them, with Democrats favoring corresponding tax increases on the rich. Based on Romney’s excerpts, he’s not yet ready to stray too far from the beaten path of his 2012 policy platform, which emphasized lower taxes for businesses and deregulation to spur growth that would eventually benefit Americans lower on the economic ladder.
“How can Secretary Clinton provide opportunity for all if she doesn’t know where jobs come from in the first place?” Romney said. “And how does President Obama expect to make America the best place on earth for businesses, as he promised in his State of the Union address, if he persists in business taxation that is the highest in the developed world, regulations that favor the biggest banks and crush the small ones, a complex and burdensome health care plan, and a slanted playing field for unions and trial lawyers.”
Romney’s remarks went on to recount how he “met folks who had been in poverty from generation to generation” during the previous campaign, and blames their persistent plight on “failed liberal policies.” Instead, he’ made the case “to apply conservative policies that improve America’s education system, promote family formation and create good-paying jobs.”
Just as Romney is trying to rebrand himself, Democrats are eager to keep him tied to his 2012 incarnation. DNC Communications Director Mo Elleithee issued a statement resurrecting some familiar attacks in response to the leaked excerpts.
“We don’t really need to hear a lecture on ‘where jobs come from’ from a guy who’s best known for bankrupting companies and profiting off of outsourcing,” Elleithee said. “Under this Administration, we just saw the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s, and we’ve created 11 million private sector jobs. I don’t know if Mitt Romney thinks 47% of those folks are ‘takers,’ but I am sure he’s not the right guy to talk about expanding opportunity.”