Abandoning the restraint that presidential candidates typically show in moments of bloodshed, Romney accused President Barack Obama of wanting to "apologize" for American values as protests against an anti-Islam film turned violent.
So far, it's an offensive that Romney has undertaken largely alone. In a flurry of statements condemning the killings Wednesday morning, most Republican congressional leaders did not join his attack on the White House.
Long Island Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) faulted Romney's timing. "I think he is right on the larger point. But whether he should have made a statement at 10 o'clock last night or waited a day is another story."
Obama suggested in an interview with CBS that Romney spoke too quickly.
"There's a broader lesson to be learned here," Obama said. "Gov. Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later." Asked whether he considered Romney's comments "irresponsible," Obama replied, "I'll let the American people judge that."
In a statement Tuesday night, Romney said, "It's 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."
Romney was referring to a statement issued Tuesday afternoon by the Cairo embassy before protesters reached the embassy, as tensions were rising over an amateur film made in the United States that ridiculed Islam's prophet Muhammad. The embassy statement condemned "continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims."
The White House distanced itself from that statement.
Romney reiterated the charge at a morning news conference in Jacksonville, Fla., after word came of the four American deaths in Libya.
"I think it's a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values," he said.
Republican leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), steered clear of such attacks Wednesday as they expressed outrage at the killings. So did frequent Obama critics Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who urged the president to keep supporting democracy efforts in Libya and Egypt.
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights) ripped Romney. "It is un-American, unpatriotic to try to tear down a president in the midst of a crisis," he said. "It only manages to inflame. Libya is not the only country that has matches."
With Tom Brune