Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney went 2-for-3 on his 8-day foreign trip. He was a rousing success in Israel and delivered a pleasing performance in Poland. But in London, he was pilloried for doubting whether the Olympics would come off smoothly. Also, the American media traveling with him was largely unimpressed, regarding the trip as little more than one Romney gaffe after another.
The good news for Romney was that Israel and Poland, perhaps the most pro-American nations in the world, were the important stops. The UK, not so much. Romney went there mostly for the Olympics.
The press coverage, however, detracted from the overall impression made by Romney. Reporters—especially the Americans—were on patrol for miscues and tactless or indiscreet statements. And they found plenty, though most of them weren’t gaffes at all but merely comments that someone, somewhere, might not like.
The obsession with bloopers prompted a clash Tuesday between the U.S. media and a Romney aide. As Romney was leaving the Polish tomb of the unknown soldier, reporters shouted questions at him. Was he concerned about his “mishaps?” Did he have a statement for Palestinians offended by a remark he made in Israel? Was he worried his gaffes had overshadowed the trip?
Romney didn’t answer, but press assistant Rick Gorka did. He told the reporters they should “show some respect” for “the holy site of the Polish people.” He added they could “shove it” and “kiss my ass.” Within an hour, Gorka had apologized.
The traveling reporters were frustrated because Romney had ignored them for days, while giving sit-down interviews to American TV correspondents and Israeli journalists. So he was at least partially responsible for the dustup. A simple rule is you ignore the press covering your campaign at your peril. Romney should give the media grunts some attention.
Poland was a three-wreath visit for Romney. On Monday, he came with wreaths to the memorial at the spot where World War II began and to the Solidarity memorial near the shipyard where the revolt against the communist government began in 1980. Today, he took one to the unknown soldier tomb.
Romney met with the Solidarity leader who led the uprising, an electrician named Lech Walesa who later was Poland’s first president and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Romney got an unexpected gift from Walesa: an endorsement of his presidential campaign. Walesa said he hopes Romney will be “successful” against President Obama.
Romney’s talk here was a tribute to the Polish spirit and to the nation’s struggle for freedom. As good as the address was, it didn’t rise to the level of Romney’s speech in Israel two days earlier.
With the Old City of Jerusalem as a backdrop, Romney spoke passionately about the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. He not only voiced support for Israel’s right to defend itself against the threat of a nuclear attack from Iran, he also said Iran must be kept from achieving even the capability of deploying a nuclear weapon.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu went out of his way to thank Romney personally for making this point, one Netanyahu has made repeatedly in recent months. Romney had promised not to criticize President Obama on his foreign trip, and he didn’t. But his words made clear his support for Israel is far stronger than Obama’s.
Without saying so directly, he managed to communicate a blunt message to Israelis: “I am the alternative you are looking for.” Indeed, he seems to be. Besides Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres embraced Romney warmly. In fact, Romney was treated in Israel like a visiting head of state, not a candidate.
Romney also spoke at a fundraiser at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel to an audience of rich guys like Sheldon Adelson. It was there that he uttered a comment labeled a “mishap” by the Washington Post. Romney noted Israelis are more prosperous than Palestinians, and he attributed that to differences in culture. He’d said the same thing before, though not specifically about Israelis and Palestinians. Nonetheless, the Palestinians were furious and the White House zinged Romney too.
By the time the trip ended today, Romney’s concern about the Olympics had proved to be prescient. The Olympics are beset by empty seats at events, ticket mix-ups and scalping, and fresh concerns about security. But as usual, he got no credit from the press.