MSNBC's Kasie Hunt asked Utah Republican Senate candidate Mitt Romney in a new interview if he feels "vindicated" for his 2012 remark that Russia was "our No. 1 geopolitical foe," a comment that drew criticism and mockery at the time.
Perceptions of Romney's judgment on Russia have dramatically altered in the wake of the election of President Donald Trump and the sprawling investigation into Vladimir Putin's ordered interference in the 2016 race, in addition to Russia's 2014 invasion of Crimea, continued support for the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and other malign activities.
Hunt asked Romney about Russia, "Do you still think that's the case, and do you feel a little bit vindicated?" Romney said Russia continued to act like a foe, but he also included China as a "geopolitical competitor."
"Well, there's no question they've acted like a geopolitical foe," Romney said. "They've backed some of the world's worst actors. They've invaded neighboring nations, and of course, they've interfered with democracies and electoral processes not only in the U.S., but around the world."
"But they're not alone. There are other geopolitical adversaries. That doesn't mean we're ever going to be in a kinetic conflict with them or with other major nations like China. But China is also becoming a bit of a geopolitical competitor, if you will … in that they're pushing against our interests in various parts of the world, and you've got these authoritarian regimes who want to denigrate democracy and the nature of our republic and substitute a form of authoritarianism."
Romney wouldn't call Putin an "enemy" but said his interests of exerting dominance over former Soviet states differed from those of the U.S. and anyone who valued freedom. He also said he wouldn't call the Russia investigation a "hoax," in response to a Hunt question referring to Trump's frequent criticisms of the probe.
The admission of Romney's prescience from a reporter at MSNBC was noteworthy, given how the network overwhelmingly favored President Barack Obama in the 2012 election. Its analysts and anchors numbered among the numerous media and Democratic critics of Romney's comments about Russia at the time.
Obama memorably quipped at the third 2012 debate to Romney that the "1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back." John Kerry called it "preposterous." MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell echoed Obama's slam on Romney at one point, calling it a "throwback to the Cold War. We work with Russia all the time."
The New York Times editorial board called Romney's comment in 2012 "reckless and unworthy of a major presidential contender." A little more than five years later, the same editorial board ripped Trump for his "dangerous indifference to Russia."
Some progressive critics of Romney have since admitted they were wrong to blast him for what he said about Russia in the wake of its interference in the 2016 election, including CNN commentator Paul Begala and former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau.
Romney clinched the GOP Senate nomination in Utah after routing State Rep. Mike Kennedy in the primary runoff on June 26. Romney is heavily favored to defeat his Democratic opponent in November. He won Utah in a landslide in the 2012 election, has high name recognition and popularity there, and he retains goodwill from his work to rescue the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City from financial ruin.