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WASHINGTON — On Wednesday morning, hours after the deaths of four U.S. diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Mitt Romney put his campaign on the line by attacking President Barack Obama and the besieged diplomats in the Middle East.

Romney, in a statement released Tuesday night, had called the president’s handling of the Libya and Egypt attacks “disgraceful.” Wednesday morning, Romney hastily scrapped a campaign rally in Jacksonville, Fla., dismantling a campaign stage, and instead held a small press conference in which he repeatedly defended his criticism of the administration, slamming embassy officials in Cairo and President Obama. “When our grounds are being attacked, and being breached, that the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation. And apology for America’s values is never the right course,” he said, slamming the Obama administration for “sympathiz[ing] with those who waged the attacks.”

Romney’s assault on Obama was rare among Republicans. Sarah Palin and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus joined him in condemning the president, but no other significant GOP leader thought it prudent to immediately single out the president for criticism.

A host of Republican foreign policy officials were quick to blast the “utter disaster” that was Romney’s response.

Romney’s rash condemnation of the president, released after it was known that there had been U.S. fatalities, calls to mind Sen. John McCain’s snap decision in 2008 to suspend his presidential campaign to deal with the financial crisis. The move was judged deeply unpresidential and contributed to his defeat.

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