Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Romney's International Gaffe Tour

It's a new convention to have a (presumptive) presidential nominee do a world tour, and one that might go out the window after Gov. Mitt Romney's gaffe ridden trip. The timing couldn't have been better. After enduring weeks of attacks from the left about his scant disclosure of tax filings and about this actual level of involvement with Bain Capital as the firm outsourced jobs, including a much lampooned retroactive retirement, the world was going to give reporters two big distractions. First, Romney was taking a road trip airplane ride to the United Kingdom, Israel, and Poland. Second, the Olympics were getting underway.  Clear sailing until after the closing ceremonies, right? Keep your head down, look presidential, smile, and just wait until August where you can steal the news cycle with the announcement of the winner of the veepstakes. If only.

The Romney camp made no friends in the UK or back at home as the candidate himself questioned both the country's preparedness and commitment to the Olympics and while a campaign spokesman said Romney understood the special relationship because of a shared Anglo-Saxon heritage. The Olympics comment became the story in the lead up to the opening ceremony, which even led British Prime Minister Cameron to make a rather backhanded comment about Salt Lake City and Utah. The Anglo-Saxon comment has been contested by Romney's campaign and I don't believe there was any intended racism in it, but boy it sounds pretty racist on it's face. Honestly, I think Cameron is in the bag for Obama. They may not agree on policy approaches, but I think they're too guys who like each other. Did you seem how loose they looked taking in a basketball game together?

Next stop, Israel. Romney did receive a warm welcome in Israel and clearly his relationship with Bibi is far stronger than Obama's consider the widespread speculation that the two men just don't get on. But Romney couldn't help himself, making a ham-handed comment that the reason the Palestinian territory is experiencing slower economic growth is because of cultural differences between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Now, I don't think Gov. Romney is too concerned about rankling the feathers of the Palestinian Authority, but it's the sort of comment that could come back to haunt a President Romney hoping to move the needle in peace talks.

Final stop, Poland.  Poland always seemed like a bit of an odd duck. Clearly the U.S. has a special relationship with the UK and Israel and we sure do like Poland a lot, but the depth of the bond isn't as strong.  So this was the gimme. No topics to trying, again, just go, smile, shake hands, take in the culture, and get out. Just don't talk...wait...what's that?  A Romney spokesman wants to say something to the press pool: "Kiss my a**. This is a Holy site." Yuh-ikes. And with that Romney was hurried away in a car and likely not going to be available to the media for a week or so.

With that, Romney's international trip is coming to an end, and the question that arises is simply. Does this impact Romney's chances back home?  It's tough to say at this point. I tend to think it could hurt Romney with independents for two reasons.  Number one, Obama's foreign policy has been rather strong and he can get up to the podium at the debates and with every foreign policy question just say, "I ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden."

Moderator: "Mr. President, China has been accused of currency manipulation. What if any recourse does the U.S. have to end this market distortion?"

President: "I ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden."

Moderator: "Mr. President, our ally, Israel, believes Iran will soon have a nuclear capability. What action are you prepared to take to prevent a nuclear Iran?"

President: "I ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden."

Moderator: "yes sir, but what else?"

President: " I would order his killing again if he were alive today. But he's not, because I ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden."

I call this the Rudy Giuliani approach to foreign policy debates. After that extended distraction, reason number two, these international trips are about looking presidential.  When you offend your first host, are passively racist against anyone not anglo-saxon and against Palestinians, and then your spokesman curses at the press pool. Well none of that looks very presidential.

Without a doubt this election is primarily about domestic issues, but people still want a president who acts presidential abroad and that moderator's quiver just got loaded up with foreign policy statements that need some explaining by candidate Romney during the debate. Time will tell how much this will really impact things, but I would imagine many in the Romney camp are now thinking to themselves they should have just stayed home.

UPDATED 2:58pm: Unsurprisingly, the Obama campaign doesn't believe Romney's international trip passes the "commander-in-chief test." This is entirely the sort of thing that hurts Romney with independents and once again he's on the defensive.

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