WASHINGTON — Republicans angling for his job compared President Obama to a one-term Democratic president and a Democratic vice president who fell short in his bid to win the presidency.
Appearing before conservatives who hold huge sway in the GOP presidential nomination fight, a stream of would-be GOP candidates called Obama weak and suggested they alone possess the talents needed to beat him and lead a country in crisis.
In unrelenting attacks on Obama, the lineup of potential contenders took on the president's economic team, his advisers and even the first lady's vegetable garden. They did little to mask their disdain for the man they hope to replace.
"Ladies and gentleman: Barack Obama is not behaving like Ronald Reagan. He's behaving like Jimmy Carter," former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said, likening Obama to the incumbent president Reagan defeated in 1980 amid a foreign policy and economic crisis.
"President Obama has stood watch over the greatest job loss in modern American history. And that, my friends, is one inconvenient truth that will haunt this president throughout history," former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said, linking Obama with the film title of Democrats' 2000 presidential hopeful, Vice President Al Gore.
Pawlenty, his voice hoarse and rising, questioned whether Obama was standing up for U.S. foreign policy.
"Mr. President, with bullies, might makes right," Pawlenty said, drawing the crowd to its feet. "Strength makes them submit. Get tough on our enemies — not our friends."
The annual gathering of more than 11,000 conservatives marked the unofficial start of the GOP presidential nomination fight.
Romney took a swipe at first lady Michelle Obama's White House garden in a dig at Obama's new effort at bipartisanship rolled out in the State of the Union.
"He sounded like he was going to dig up the first lady's organic garden to put in a Bob's Big Boy," Romney said, referencing the burger chain.