You have to give presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney a lot of credit: when it was first announced he’d be going overseas many analysts predicted that it would be the kind of foreign trip that would add to his image. It most certainly has.
But as Taylor Marsh notes here, it has been a debacle in imagery — image deconstruction not image building.
This is not the result Camp Romney had been hoping for in sending him to London:
Daily Mail Political Editor James Chapman has been providing the world a play by play of Romney’s British implosion via his Twitter account. Romney started things off by criticizing London’s preparedness for the Olympics. He then forgot the name of British Labour Leader Ed Miliband, and then he admitted that he had been given a secret briefing by MI6. This led the British to ask aloud if they have another George W. Bush on their hands, “Romney blunders again by revealing he’s had (supposedly) top secret briefing by John Sawers, MI6 boss. Do we have a new Dubya on our hands?”
After his visit to Whitehall, Chapman offered two of the kinder reviews of Mitt Romney, “Serious dismay in Whitehall at Romney debut. ‘Worse than Sarah Palin.’ ‘Total car crash’. Two of the kinder verdicts.” Chapman also reported another verdict from British meet and greet with Mitt, “Another verdict from one Romney meeting: ‘Apparently devoid of charm, warmth, humour or sincerity’”
What will Romney do when he gets to Israel? Will he sing Springtime for Hitler and offer the Israeli Prime Minister a bag of pork rinds?
Romney’s trip was designed to spotlight his foreign policy skills, but instead, on his very first stop, he ended up trying dig himself out of a diplomatic blunder after offending the Brits over their handling of the Olympics.
That blunder happened yesterday in an interview with NBC News when Romney talked about problems leading up to the the big games.
“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,” Romney told NBC News.
Romney’s remarks became a full-blown controversy Thursday morning, when Prime Minister David Cameron — asked in a press conference about disruptions in London’s subway service — defended the game’s organizers.
We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest most active bustling cities anywhere in the world,” Cameron said. “Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere. I visited Naypyidaw recently, in Burma, they’ve got six-lane highways and no cars on them. This is a busy, bustling city so inevitably you’re going to have challenges.”
Cameron was making the point that it would be easier to run an Olympics in a less congested place. But the British press jumped all over the “middle of nowhere” remark, saying it had to be a dig at Romney and the Salt Lake City games he ran in 2002.
The spin sparked controversy back in the U.S.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker took offense at Cameron’s supposed slam, saying, “We’d love to have him and are happy to send a map so he doesn’t run into any trouble locating the middle of nowhere.”
Romney also ran into trouble in the interview when he seemed to question the commitment of the British people to the games.
Romney seemed to leave the impression that he isn’t ready for diplomatic prime time — but is ready to be a key cast member in a Three Stooges short:
But, no, it could be like Curly Howard — one of the most beloved of the Stooges. Romney’s problem is not that he just doesn’t win over people who aren’t Sean Hannity fans, he is not likable and even apparently less charming.
On Twitter, a new account Romney Shambles is adding new Tweets by the minute. Here are a just a few – and many of them are utterly devastating. Will the Democrats quote some of them in future ads?:
Danielle Blake [email protected]
Mitt Romney retroactively cancels visit to London. #RomneyShambles
1h Jon Berry [email protected]
“The trip was meant to make him look presidential… it made him look like Mr. Bean.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/26/mitt-romney-london-olympics-gaffe-live?newsfeed=true #London2012 #Romneyshambles
2h The Daily Edge [email protected]
You can tell @MittRomney’s doing badly when he starts getting booed by rich white people #RomneyShambles #AmericanBorat
3h Jason Febery [email protected]
According to my friends in Gloucestershire, Brits are already beginning to call Mitt Romney “the American Borat.” #RomneyShambles
from Rockford, IL
3h Matt Ortega [email protected]
Mitt Romney is now, officially, an international embarrassment. Our policy of containment has failed. #RomneyShambles
3h VANITY FAIR [email protected]
Romney couldn’t possibly offend England right before the #Olympics. Oh, he did http://vnty.fr/N5XbUx #RomneyShambles
4h Barracks O’Bama [email protected]
RT @brx0: Next up: Driving around London with the queen’s corgis on the roof. #RomneyShambles
4h Armando Iannucci [email protected]
The full #romneyshambles http://gu.com/p/39amz/tw. Someone hurl him back on a plane and straight out of our airspace, please!
4h P M [email protected]
Americans: This Mitt person is some sort of American Borat, right? #romneyshambles
Dear Great Britain: Yeah. We know. Sorry. Welcome to our world. –Signed, America. #romneyshambles
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5h Cameron Addicott [email protected]
Mitt Romney makes George Bush look like Aristotle. #RomneyShambles
Hey Mitt Romney if you don’t like our #Olympics then bugger off home. We don’t like you either #romneyshambles
5h Darren Lewis [email protected]
Dear America. Look we get the point ok! Sorry. OK, you send us back @piersmorgan and PLEASE you take back @MittRomney #romneyshambles
6h James Chapman (Mail) [email protected]
Another verdict from one Romney meeting: ‘Apparently devoid of charm, warmth, humour or sincerity’ #romneyshambles #mitthitsthefan
6h James Chapman (Mail) [email protected]
Can this get any worse for Romney? Boris [a British mayor] is now mocking him in front of 60,000 people in Hyde Park #romneyshambles
6h James Chapman (Mail) [email protected]
Serious dismay in Whitehall at Romney debut. ‘Worse than Sarah Palin.’ ‘Total car crash’. Two of the kinder verdicts #romneyshambles
7h David K Smith [email protected]_dave
Romney achieves what no amount of BBC propaganda could – uniting the Brits behind London Olympics! #romneyshambles
Andy Borowitz Tweeted: “We have not been at war with Britain since 1812. Well done, Mitt!”
If Romney wanted to get noticed, he certainly did. London’s Mayor Boris Johnson noticed him:
Expect to now hear talk about how the British never lambasted Obama for his gaffes. The question will then become: whose gaffes are dumber and more amateurish? And I suspect if you don’t count ideological talk show hosts and ideological website writers, that would be an election Romney would win in a landslide. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer has called Romney’s comments “unbelievable” and “incomprehensible.”
But spin control has already begun.
Romney’s surrogates are already saying — get ready..I’m sure you can predict it…yes…they will say it:
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell — both rumored to be potential vice presidential choices for Romney — defended Romney from the embarrassing headlines in London on a press call set up by the Romney campaign.
Jindal and McDonnell were trying to highlight continuing efforts to turn President Obama’s out-of-context “you didn’t build that” quote into a Republican rallying cry.
They insisted the multiple Romney blunders in England won’t ultimately do any damage to his campaign.
“No, the reality is, we’re not worried about overseas headlines. We’re worried about voters back here in America,” Jindal said. “I think the focus needs to continue to be on what’s happening here at home. That’s what’s important to voters.”
But Jindal also tried to cast Romney’s wariness over Olympic preparedness, which angered many Britons, in the best possible light: “Gov. Romney has said he expects the London Olympics to be a phenomenal success,” and, “The reality is we’re all rooting for our American athletes, we hope they come back with a bunch of medals and I’m sure they’re going to be very successful.”
If only this had been the FRENCH press, it’d be easier. But this is the British press.
The blunt reality?
1. Romney & Co had most assuredly hoped this would burnish his image as someone who could be seen by voters as not just a former Massachusetts Governor, but as a potential globe-trotting Commander in Chief, going to foreign countries.
In 1963, JFK in Germany looked at Germans and said, “Ich bin ein Berliner.”
In 2012. the British press and government looked at Romney and said: “Ich!!”
2. If he had gotten great press his surrogates would be touting it and if he had cheers from crowds the footage would appear in Romney ads. They wouldn’t be saying in effect who the hell cares what foreign newspapers think.
Romney gains nothing from this trip to London.
Late night comedians.
But their jokes can’t be as funny as the Tweets filling up several Twitter accounts as you read this — or the original news stories of Romney tying diplomatic sensitivites to the roof of his car.
But, in this case, the car crashed.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.