WILSON, Wyo. (AP) — Former Vice President Dick Cheney told Republican fundraisers Thursday night that Mitt Romney is the "only" man who can make the right decisions in unexpected foreign policy crises. The presumptive 2012 Republican presidential nominee called Cheney a "great American leader" — and didn't mention former President George W. Bush in a 20-minute speech to a country club reception.
Cheney said serving under four presidents taught him that a surprising international crisis is inevitable.
"When I think about the kind of individual I want in the Oval Office in that moment of crisis, who has to make those key decisions, some of them life-and-death decisions, some of them decisions as commander-in-chief, who has the responsibility for sending some of our young men and women into harm's way, that man is Mitt Romney," Cheney said to applause.
It was a strong endorsement from a man who has come to represent the neoconservative foreign policy wing of the Republican Party. Until Thursday, Romney had avoided appearing with Cheney or with Bush.
While Romney avoided mentioning the former president in remarks that were open to the press, he invoked Bush in a question-and-answer session with donors at a private dinner at Cheney's home. In remarks overheard by reporters standing outside the clubhouse, Romney contrasted what he called "President George W. Bush's freedom agenda" with President Barack Obama.
Cheney, who generally avoids retail politicking, is still a controversial figure because of his hawkish foreign policy stances and support for enhanced interrogation techniques — like waterboarding — that many consider torture. Obama banned those techniques after he took office.
Donors gathered Thursday night under a tent next to the driving range at Teton Pines Country Club, a golfing community where Cheney has a home. After Cheney introduced him, Romney praised the former vice president as "a great American leader."
Romney criticized Obama's domestic policies on health care and spending. "But the foreign policy mistakes, I believe, may be even longer lasting in their negative impact on the country," he said, but he did not specify those policies. In the past Romney has attacked Obama's policies on Iran, China and Israel, although he has praised the president for authorizing the raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden.
Romney raised more than $4 million with Cheney, long a strong fundraiser in part because of his popularity among the conservative Republican base. The Cheney-sponsored events in this resort area near Yellowstone National Park represent a welcome endorsement for Romney, who is eager to win over more of the party's base.
Cheney was hosting Romney at a private dinner at his Wyoming home after he posed for photos with Romney and the fundraisers who had flown from all over the country for the event. They were drawn either by Cheney or by the dramatic beauty of the mountains in this resort valley. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, a national campaign finance co-chair, was in attendance, as were bundlers from Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma and New York, among other places.