October 22nd, 2012
11:30 PM ET
1 year ago

'Horses and bayonets' shows Obama's debate strategy

(CNN) - Perhaps it only makes sense that a candidate who prepared for a presidential debate near Colonial Williamsburg would slam Mitt Romney's plan for more Navy ships with the phrase "horses and bayonets."

President Barack Obama's quip - meant to make the point that modern warfare doesn't require the type of equipment it did in the past - appeared part of a larger strategy of casting his opponent as stuck in a time warp on important issues. And Republicans, seeing an opening, are making sure shipbuilders just down the road from the president' Virginia prep location are aware of the president's suggestion their industry is a thing of the past.

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Obama made the jab Monday at his final debate with Mitt Romney.

"You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916," Obama said in a pointed jab at the GOP nominee. "Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military's changed."

He continued, "We had these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. So the question is not a game of battleship where we're counting ships. It's 'What are our capabilities?'"

That was in response to an allegation from Romney that "our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917."

"The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission," the Republican candidate continued. "We're now at under 285. We're headed down to the low 200s if we go through a sequestration. That's unacceptable to me."

Romney was referring to the large cuts to the defense budget that would be triggered if a deal isn't reached on reducing the federal debt by the end of the year. His assertion that 313 ships are required for a fully operational Navy uses an outdated figure – Navy Secretary Ray Mabus dropped the number to 300 ships in April.

Mabus has also pushed back on criticism of the Navy's strength compared to 1917, saying it's an outdated way of looking at American defense strategy.

"We have all heard the point that this is the smallest fleet the Navy’s had since 1917. But comparing our fleet today to the one in 1917 is like comparing the telegraph to the smart phone. They’re just not comparable," Mabus said, also in April. When he made the remarks, he was not specifically referring to criticism from Romney.

The "horses and bayonets" line soon became the debate's viral catchphrase, following "big bird," "marlarkey" and "binders full of women" as the pull-out refrain that set the internet afire. The term followed the now-familiar routine of trending on Twitter (hashtag #horsesandbayonets), followed by a debate-inspired tumblr and a Facebook page . The creations mostly featured the inscrutable image of Romney mounted on a unicorn.

Obama's Revolution-era flashback was one of several attempts by the president to cast Romney as behind the times. Obama also pinned his GOP rival to the 1980s - "they're now calling to ask for their foreign policy back" - for his remark to CNN in March that Russia was the United States' number one geopolitical foe.

In stump speeches, Obama harks to another era for Romney's stance on reproductive rights, saying the candidate's position is "more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century."

And Obama hammers Romney for favoring a "trickle-down" economic approach, saying that method was a proven failure in the past.

Yet Republicans say Obama's lumping together of Navy ships with "horses and bayonets" could harm him in the key battleground of Virginia, where some of the Navy's largest shipbuilding and repair operations are based. Obama and Romney have both been battling fiercely for votes in the southeastern part of the state, where communities in Newport News, Norfolk and Portsmouth are largely sustained by Navy operations.

Republicans immediately latched onto the comment on Twitter, saying it showed Obama would be open to cutting military jobs in the commonwealth.

And Romney's surrogates blasted the president in statements.

"President Obama's dismissive comments about the Navy tonight should be concerning for any voter who cares about the safety and security of Americans at home and abroad," Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, said in a statement distributed by Romney's campaign. "President Obama has not only ignored these concerns – but his flippant comment about 'horses and bayonets' was an insult to every sailor who has put his or her life on the line for our country."

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Filed under: 2012 • Mitt Romney • Navy • President Obama
soundoff (688 Responses)
  1. Andy

    It takes more than four years to fix a sick culture of wanters. As your debt grows so does your list of who to blame. Humble, honor and pride are not words that become your once proud nation.

    October 24, 2012 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
  2. LBG

    It is time for an election so that this nation can move on. I am sick of all the lies and outright smears coming from the Obama campaign. It wouldn't matter who the Repubs put up to run against Obama it would have been the same exact race thanks to the media. The problem is that his record on the economy is awful , the country is possibly headed back into recession (I hope not) and a huge secment of Americans are sick to death of the situation..There is no possible way that this country can operate for any length of time without a "Real" budget. It is obvious he has no interest in dealing with numbers or he never would have submitted a budget that looked like a (Christmas wish list) when he knows we are borrowing money from China to pay our debts. My 5 year old grandchild knows better than to ask for extras if we are short on money. How hard is that to figure out? It is time for a new leader that has some money sense! It's obvious as heck Obama has none! If he had an ounce of it, he would have taken care of this sequestration issue by now-but No-he can't work both sides of the isle and has no interest in it. His ideas are all about ideology and nothing more. It's no wonder this country is so divided on every issue. This is not a college campus where ideology issues are explored. This is not a lab experiement-this is the United States of America with real people in it who need jobs!

    October 24, 2012 05:08 am at 5:08 am |
  3. Iamnotfooled

    Horses? Bayonets? Obama is right. How about drones? Romney is fighting in the past. Obama is using the tools of the present and wants to develop the tools of the future through research and development. Buliding more ships is not the answer. Equipping them with new technology - yes. Covert operations, cyber attacks, are more in line with what we need today. That Commander- in Chief is President Obama. Less loss of American lives. Romneys 17 Bush advisors favor war. They are just making Romney seem peaceful to win. Don't be fooled. What do you think the 2 Trillion in military spending that the Generals don't want is for? We are already second to none when it comes to our military capabilities. And we spend more then 10 countries put together.

    October 24, 2012 05:21 am at 5:21 am |
  4. GrampaSez

    "Hamas and allied terrorists pound Israel with more than 50 rocket attacks Wednesday. Several wounded, two seriously. The latest attacks came less than a day after the visiting emir of oil-rich Qatar incited Gaza residents by saying during his visit,..." “There is no clear strategy of resistance and liberation” in the absence of peace talks, which both Hamas and its rival faction Fatah have boycotted."
    By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu – israelnationalnews

    "Oil talks louder than money: The US departs from a policy of damning visits to Gaza, says the Qatari emir was on a “humanitarian mission.” "The Bush and Obama administrations have had a consistent policy of discouraging official visits to Gaza because Hamas is a declared illegal terrorist organization.
    The State Dept. made a tacit exception in the case of the visit of Sheikh Hamad, who brought with him $250 million for housing and other projects, and he promised an almost equal sum in the near future.
    “We’ve seen the reports that he visited Gaza today on a humanitarian mission,” State Dept. spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Tuesday. “We share Qatar’s deep concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people, including those residing in Gaza.”

    October 24, 2012 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  5. rex remes

    Romney's team should point out to Obama that bayonets ARE used by the military. And that these bayonets are made right here in America by century old businesses... such as Buck Knife (family owned) and Ontario Knife Company.

    I guess in Obama's vision of the US military there would be no bayonets, and maybe there would be less work/jobs for Americans and these two American companies.

    October 24, 2012 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  6. militaryman

    We use horses in Afganistan and Iraq just to mention and every soldier in the Army and Marines are issued a bayonet to this very day shows you how little he knows about the military hes in charge of, what a tool!!!

    October 24, 2012 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  7. jrh

    Iamnotfooled. YOu clearly don't know a thing about how the military works.

    Technology never replaces manpower. It only augments it. Its is the troops and operatives on the ground that get the intel that tells teh drones where to strike. The same people that talk about using drones are the ones talking about closing foreign bases. Where the hell would we laucn drones from?

    Yes we are the most power military worldwide. Yes, we spend way than the rest. Duh. Common sense. America's budget is a major part of its military advantage. We HAVE to spend more than the rest, becase it is very expensive to be decisively stronger than the rest of the world. If we only spent "as much" as everybody else, we'd be equal in strength and have no military advantage, like we enjoy now. Being number 1 is much costlier than number 2.

    BTW, it takes tons of ground troops to lay the foundation for special operators to do their work.

    Thinking we can just let drones and SEAL teams do everything is like saying you could get rid of your entire building's computer systems and network infrastructure because "oh well we just started giving people Iphones".

    October 24, 2012 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  8. anoel2005

    The reason Obama attacks Romney is because he has no plan of his own and he has no record to run on.

    Romney for jobs !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 24, 2012 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  9. fintastic

    Romney's comment about the navy had me on the floor laughing.

    October 24, 2012 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  10. Irony of the Bait

    This whole issue was a setup. Of course Republicans know about modern capabilities. No one thinks that 313 WW1 dreadnaughts are even close to a match for our modern force. A single Nimitz carrier would have owned the 1916 oceans. Republicans were just trying to bait the President into making it seem like the Navy didn't need any more ships so they could score some political points in Virginia. He took the bait and scored a snarky blow, but now the Republicans are going to run with it for the next 2 weeks. The undecideds in VA will be blasted with ads telling them that Romney will rain down government money and and Obama will pull the plug. Does anyone else see the irony? The hypocrisy?

    October 24, 2012 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  11. h2oclerk

    Obama's slurs and calculated sarcasm are unbecoming of a president, but the persistence with which he relies upon them clearly demonstrates the emptiness of Obama's arguments.

    Obama's campaign has been reduced to relying upon inventing new catch phrases to misrepresent and thereby undermine Romney's actual position on issues. As Obama himself said back in 2008, when a candidate (Obama) has nothing but a bad record to run on, he will make his campaign about unimportant things... binders, bayonets, "romnesia", and whatever other desperate ploys his lapdogs can conjure up to cloud the real issues.

    October 24, 2012 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  12. JoeJo

    If Romney wins, the U.S. will be at war with Syria and Iran in January.

    October 24, 2012 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  13. JoeJo

    Listening to what Romney said in the 3rd debate, he only gives respect to those countries who have nukes! What message is he sending to Iran??? Go ahead, make my day?

    October 24, 2012 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
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