JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Crises overseas tend to create moments of joint resolve back home, a time to pause from the daily bickering of partisan politics. But as news was streaming in from attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya, Mitt Romney broke from that protocol.

Statements the Republican presidential nominee made slamming President Obama led to a day of tumult for Romney, with leading voices in his party criticizing him and his top aides scrambling to prevent further damage.

The situation started Tuesday night, with Romney accusing Obama of sympathizing with anti-American interests in the Muslim world — a common line of attack from the Republican.

But the timing of the statement — in the middle of ongoing incidents in Libya and Egypt — led to an outburst of criticism that built as the night went on and intensified after Romney reiterated the charge at a hastily staged news conference here Wednesday morning.

“I think it’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values, that instead 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,” Romney told reporters. “An apology for America’s values is never the right course.”

The embassy statement that he referred to as akin to apology was issued by the embassy in Cairo at midday on Tuesday at a time the staff was aware of still-peaceful demonstrations in the area nearby, The Associated Press reported. It was four or five hours later when the mob breached the compound’s walls and tried to burn a U.S. flag.

The embassy statement condemned “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions,” and noted that religious freedom is a cornerstone of American democracy.

Romney added that the White House later “distanced itself” from the statement, saying it hadn’t been cleared by senior officials in Washington. “That reflects the mixed signals they’re sending to the world.”

Minutes after Romney’s news conference in Jacksonville, Fla., Obama addressed the nation from the White House. With Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at his side, the president mourned the loss of American lives and vowed that “justice will be done.”

Acting on what one senior campaign official said was the unanimous recommendation of his foreign policy and political advisers, Romney took a calculated gamble in admonishing the president before the full gravity of the situation was known.

But Romney was left hanging from a weak limb as many in his party — including his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan — appeared to undercut him with noticeably more conciliatory and somber responses. “This is a time for healing. It’s a time for resolve,” Ryan said Wednesday during a campaign stop in De Pere, Wis.

“It almost feels like Sarah Palin is his foreign policy adviser,” Matthew Dowd, who was a top strategist for president George W. Bush, said in an interview. “It’s just a huge mistake on the Romney campaign’s part — huge mistake.”

In an interview Wednesday afternoon with CBS News, Obama said there is “a broader lesson to be learned here.”

“Gov. Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later,” Obama told CBS. “And as president, one of the things I have learned is that you can’t do that. You have to make sure that statements you make are backed up by facts and that you have to think through the ramification before you make them.”

Top aides to Romney said publicly that they had no regrets, but some advisers and supporters acknowledged privately that this was a cautionary tale — that in a rapid-response media environment, thoughtfulness sometimes gives way to the intense drive to win the news cycle.

Romney did get some support. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said that “Gov. Romney is absolutely right, there is no justification for these deadly attacks and we should never apologize for American freedom.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this report