The Magazine

The Real Romney Trip

With the Republican candidate abroad

Aug 13, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 44 • By FRED BARNES
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Jerusalem
Regarding politicians, the press can keep only one idea in its mind at a time, a single defining characteristic. In Mitt Romney’s case, the idea is he’s gaffe-prone.

Mitt Romney at the Wailing Wall

NEWSCOM

Romney doesn’t understand this. On the second day of his foreign trip, Romney and his family were amused as they read aloud the witty headlines in the British papers zinging him over his critique of the country’s preparations for the Olympics. Romney’s son Josh teased him. They all laughed.

What Romney didn’t know was that the British press had established the storyline for his six-day trip to England, Israel, and Poland. Day after day, the media reported his first overseas trip as the Republican presidential candidate as one dominated by stumbles, missteps, and diplomatic blunders.

The significant parts of the trip were overshadowed. Romney received an unprecedented welcome in Israel, where a literal red carpet was rolled out for him as if he were a head of state. His visit to Poland was a success. He delivered two excellent speeches. But all this was minimized in the media.

Romney bears at least some of the blame for the unfavorable coverage. He unnecessarily alienated the press traveling with him—mostly young reporters—who resented being ignored. His campaign scheduled a fundraiser in Jerusalem, figuring the money it brought in would more than offset the press criticism it was bound to receive. And he did commit a gaffe when he went public with doubts about whether the Brits had prepared sufficiently for the Olympics. 

That gaffe, though fairly innocuous, was treated with utter seriousness by the American press since it neatly fit the preconceived notion of Romney. British newspapers had already raised the same doubts about the games. The doubts were vindicated, once the Olympics began, by sparse crowds, ticket mix-ups, and persistent security concerns. But Romney got no credit for his prescience.

The press, meanwhile, made little of the extraordinary effort by President Obama and his campaign to malign the Romney trip, and at one point even to trump it with a White House signing ceremony at which the president released $70 million in military aid to Israel. And while Romney honored the oft-violated tradition of not criticizing a president while abroad, Obama broke new ground by attacking his presidential rival who was overseas.

Let’s examine both the gaffes and the events that were downplayed, starting with the four supposed gaffes.

Gaffe #1. Other than interviews with Israeli newspapers, the Romney campaign decided to make the candidate available only to television correspondents with their large audiences: Brian Williams and Matt Lauer of NBC, Wolf Blitzer and Piers Morgan of CNN, Jan Crawford of CBS, David Muir of ABC, and Greta Van Susteren and Carl Cameron of Fox.

Romney created trouble for himself in his first interview, with Williams. Here’s the Q&A:

 Williams: And in the short time you’ve been here in London, do [the Olympics] look ready to your experienced eye?

Romney: You know, it’s hard to know just how well it will turn out. There are a few things that were disconcerting, the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging. Because .  .  . there are three parts that make games successful.

Romney went on to explain that he was referring to athletes, volunteers, and “the people of the country.”

As it turned out, his comments about the Olympics didn’t get on the air on the NBC Nightly News. But a transcript was obtained by the British press, which erupted with attacks on Romney under headlines such as “Mitt the Twit,” “Who invited party-pooper Romney?” and, applying an Olympics angle, “Mitt falls at the first hurdle.”

The British press loves this puerile sort of anti-Americanism. And columnists and London’s goofy mayor, Boris Johnson, piled on. “There’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know if we’re ready,” Johnson told a crowd of 60,000 at a concert. “Are we ready? Yes, we are!”

Prime Minister David Cameron also was quoted as taking a swipe at Romney. “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world,” he said. “Of course it’s easier if you hold the Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.” That comment, according to the Guardian, was “a none too subtle reference to the 2002 Salt Lake City games famously rescued by Romney.”

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