Mitt Romney ended his six-day foreign trip Tuesday with a pointed address praising Poland as an economic and freedom-loving model for the world, a speech that proved a decided contrast to the turbulence that shadowed much of his journey.
The rousing speech was meant to cap a three-country tour designed to showcase a confident Romney moving easily on the world stage. Instead, the Republican presidential candidate found himself dogged by verbal missteps in the United Kingdom and Israel. An aide snapped angrily at U.S. reporters who tried to question Romney about them as he walked across a Polish square Monday.
Traveling press secretary Rick Gorka told a reporter to “shove it” and told another to “kiss my ass” when they tried to shout questions at Romney after a ceremony at the solemn Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Gorka later apologized, telling the reporters his remarks were inappropriate.
Romney had refused to take questions from the U.S. press since taking three questions in London at the onset of his visit there. He also did not take questions from the audience at his major address in Warsaw.
Romney’s campaign couldn’t seem to look homeward fast enough. At virtually the same time Romney finished his address in Warsaw, he unveiled a new, upbeat domestic ad that talked about his business and government experience and his love for America. He also announced a new mobile app that will allow viewers to learn instantly of his vice presidential choice.
With foreign policy far down the list of issues important to voters, the trip is unlikely to help or hurt Romney much either way.
Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist, insisted the entire journey was a success, despite Romney’s suggestion last week that the British were not ready for the Summer Olympics, and on Monday, that Israel’s economy thrived partly because of cultural differences with the Palestinians.
“Part of the reason you come on these trips is to learn and to get a better sense of how things are on the ground, to listen and be able to speak to them with more specificity and granularity and to have personal exchanges with people that you can build on,” Stevens said.
“I think people look at it and get a better sense of what he would be like as president, what he believes as president,” he said.
Tuesday was the last chapter in that process, as Romney spoke to about 400 people at the University of Warsaw Library.
The 15-minute address was aimed at driving home two key points: that market-driven economies can flourish as long as government stays out of the way, and that the United States must take a tough line against dictatorships and terrorists.
“The world should pay close attention to the transformation of Poland’s economy,” Romney said. “A march toward economic liberty and smaller government has meant a march toward higher living standards, a strong military that defends liberty at home and abroad, and an important and growing role on the international stage.”
Romney took dead aim at the Obama administration’s efforts to have government actively involved in reviving the United States’ wounded economy and made a veiled reference to the president’s often futile bid to significantly reduce the federal debt.
“Rather than heeding the false promise of a government-dominated economy, Poland sought to stimulate innovation, attract investment, expand trade, and live within its means,” Romney said. “Your success today is a reminder that the principles of free enterprise can propel an economy and transform a society.”
Romney’s speech got a polite response and mixed reviews.
“Nothing new . . . we know about freedom and war,” said Artur Kozlowski, a Polish Senate official.
“He read off a Wikipedia page. It felt like he just got briefed yesterday about everything,” complained Thomas Rudnicki, a student at Collegium Civitas, a Warsaw university.
Krzysztof Daniewski, president of the Harvard University Alumni Club of Poland, was more impressed.
“We’d like to hear this speech from President Obama,” he said. But, Daniewski pointed out, “How could he give this speech when he suggested a ‘reset’ with Russia? That would be contradictory.”
Romney did not refer to Obama’s policy of engagement and efforts toward cooperation with Russia. Instead, the Republican insisted the United States reassert its commitment to challenge ruthless regimes, and he included Russia in his list of potential threats.
“The Arab world is undergoing a historic upheaval, one that holds promise, but also risk and uncertainty. A ruthless dictator in Syria has killed thousands of his own people. In Latin America, Hugo Chavez leads a movement characterized by authoritarianism and repression,” he said in his university address. “Nations in Africa are fighting to resist the threat of violent radical jihadism. And in Russia, once-promising advances toward a free and open society have faltered.”
But, Romney added, “In a turbulent world, Poland stands as an example and defender of freedom.”