Clinton Global Initiative

Mitt Romney Speaks at Clinton Global Initiative, Hopes for Clinton “Bounce”

The Republican presidential candidate speaks of a ‘Reagan economic zone’ and makes nice with the New York liberals—for 15 minutes anyway. Allison Yarrow reports.

09.25.12 4:30 PM ET

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney mentioned neither his own candidacy nor the name of his opponent in his speech at the annual Clinton Global Initiative summit Tuesday morning. But as he braved a lion’s den of Clinton friends and likely Obama supporters, he did make a few sly asides to the race. Following a warm introduction by former President Bill Clinton, Romney said, "If there’s one thing we’ve learned in this election season ... it is that a few words from Bill Clinton can do a man a lot of good."

"All I gotta do now is wait a couple days for that bounce to happen," he said, to laughter.

In his speech, Romney blamed the poverty and unrest in the Middle East on a dearth of entrepreneurship and an absence of free-market capitalism.

Speaking of the "incomparable dignity associated with work," Romney trumpeted it as the "only system that creates a prosperous middle class." Seconding a point made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her address on Monday, Romney reminded the audience that more than 80 percent of aid to low- and middle-income nations comes from corporations, and that these partnerships are integral to change in those countries. He urged that the aid should not proceed without nations committing to lift themselves through work.

Romney said he was "touched" by the story of Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire to protest injustices committed against him by government officials in 2010, and who helped catalyze that country's uprising, which cascaded into the Arab Spring. Romney said Bouazizi's plight was exacerbated by his inability to sell his fruit, and that if he had been allowed to work in peace, things might have turned out differently.

The Romney campaign recently pounced on Barack Obama's reference to Middle East turmoil—like the Sept. 11 assassination of U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens—as “bumps in the road.”

Unlike Ms. Clinton, who took a cue from her husband and spoke for more than double her allotted time, Romney stuck close to the 15 minutes he was given, but the room was significantly fuller, with many attendees standing and many more members of the press not allowed in at all.

While not explicitly mentioning the presidential contest, Romney did insert a few promises of things he "would do."

Referring to what he called a “Reagan economic zone,” he proposed trade agreements in which "any country can participate that plays by the rules." Romney said current trade restrictions are thwarting economic growth in developing nations as well as in the United States. He also took an opportunity to pledge his support of Israel, and condemned Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is scheduled to speak across town on Wednesday at the United Nations General Assembly, as “a voice of unspeakable evil and hatred.”

In introducing Romney, Bill Clinton told a story to illustrate a collaboration between himself and Romney. He said that as he was leaving office, education nonprofit City Year, which funds AmeriCorps, was threatened by defunding. Clinton said he approached Romney, then governor of Massachusetts, and Romney rallied congressional Republicans and other governors to save the program.