Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney finishes his 8-day trip to the UK, Israel, and Poland with a speech in Warsaw today. It’s been an up-and-down trip as Romney seeks to demonstrate his ability to function effectively as an American leader overseas.
The press has been judging Romney performance with an eye toward faulting him for gaffes and mishaps. And they’ve spotted a few, though not as many as they’ve claimed. Here’s THE WEEKLY STANDARD scorecard of the trip, beginning with his final stop in Poland.
Poland. In Gdansk, Romney got an unexpected boost from Lech Walesa, the Solidarity leader who led Poland to full independence from Russia, then served as president. Walesa said he wants Romney to be “successful” in defeating President Obama in the November election. This may not affect the Polish-American vote, but it can’t hurt.
Romney visited both the World War II memorial on the spot where the war began in 1939 and the Solidarity memorial near the shipyard where Walesa worked as an electrician. He and wife Ann held hands and were appropriately solemn at each memorial. He spoke at neither place.
Poland score (so far): positive.
Israel. Romney was treated like a visiting head of state in Israel, not a mere candidate, by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Against the backdrop of the Old City of Jerusalem, he delivered a powerful speech in which he passionately supported Israel’s right to defend itself against the threat of a nuclear attack by Iran.
He had promised not to criticize Obama while on foreign soil, but he still managed to make a case for embracing Israel that was far different from what Obama says on their subject. Without saying so directly, he told Israel: “I am the alternative you are looking for.” Indeed, he seems to be.
The American press traveling with Romney labored to identify a gaffe. He spoke at a fundraiser at the King David Hotel and his audience was a room full of rich guys like Sheldon Adelson. But instead of the fundraiser, it was a comment he made there that was labeled a “misstep” by the Washington Post. Romney noted that 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. Israel score: a big-time positive for Romney
London Olympics. Romney stepped into a haymaker here delivered by the British press. In an interview with NBC News, he said he was worried about whether the Olympics would go smoothly. Whoops. Criticizing Britain on British soil didn’t go over at all. Romney got pounded, and when the British press was finished with him, American columnists took over.
Romney should have known better. But, as it turned out, troubles have hit the Olympics: sparse crowds, ticket scalping by Olympics officials, and mix-ups that kept family members from seeing their kin in action. Romney was partially vindicated, though he got no credit. London Olympics score: negative.
With a good speech today, Romney will complete his trip with a positive score, for what it’s worth. The outcome of the election has little to do with his trip abroad, and much to do with the economy.