Aspiring presidential candidates are required to go through many rites of passage on the road they hope will lead to the White House.
Writing a heartwarming book on their life story or an inspiring tome on their political philosophy is one. Taking a world tour to meet with foreign leaders is another, especially for those with few stamps in their passport.
Mitt Romney’s journey to Britain, Israel and Poland should have punched that ticket and helped his quest to occupy the Oval Office. The trip was so badly handled however, that even the talking heads on Fox, who never have a bad word about their Republican employers, could not contain their criticism.
Romney’s dismal performance on the world stage left many wondering whether it could hurt him with voters at home. It won’t, but not simply because all they care about is the economy. Here’s why.
In London, Romney insulted his British hosts by questioning their readiness to hold the Olympics. He attended a fundraising dinner with executives from scandal-ridden Barclays bank. They have already given his campaign over a million dollars and a ticket to the dinner reportedly cost at least $50,000. In addition, someone in his entourage also asserted that President Obama does not fully appreciate the common Anglo-Saxon heritage of both countries.
Romney’s remarks drew sharp retorts from both the Mayor of London and Prime Minister Cameron, including the observation that it is more of a challenge to organize the Olympics in one of the busiest cities in the world than it was in the “middle of nowhere.” That clear reference to Salt Lake City is an insult to nowhere as the capital of Utah is at best on its periphery.
In Israel, Romney won friends and influenced people by telling a gathering of rich donors that the huge disparity between the Israeli and Palestinian economies was due to cultural differences. He then did his best to write Israel a blank check on whatever tactics they care to use against Iran. That’s nothing new. In the Republican candidates’ debate in Iowa last December, Romney said he would call his old friend Bibi Netanyahu and ask his permission before he said anything about the Middle East.
He also praised Israel’s health care system as a model of efficiency for consuming only 8 percent of the nation’s economic output while it is 18 percent in the United States. Israel, of course, has universal coverage and mandatory insurance as well as heavy government regulation of costs. In other words, exactly the kind of characteristics Romney has promise will never be part of the American system.
In Poland, Romney left the gaffs to his staff and busied himself with ignoring the journalists that were traveling with him. They were reduced to shouting questions at him from behind the rope line. All that produced was a rebuke from his spokesman who included the eloquent phrases “kiss my ass” and “shove it” in his response.
For his part Romney praised the Polish economic model and the reduced role its government plays in its economy. He of course ignored the fact that even according to the statistics cooked up by the right wing Heritage Foundation, government spending in the United States as a percentage of gross domestic product is lower at 42.2 percent than the 44.6 percent in Poland, not to mention the 44.3 percent in Israel and the 51.2 percent in Great Britain.
The media is now left to assess the damage and the verdict, especially on the left, is that the trip was a disaster. It won’t hurt Romney, however, as he was actually playing to his base. The worldview, as well as the domestic politics, of those voters contains generous helpings of not-so-subtle racism, Islamo-paranoia and xenophobia. Government is evil and its only role is to make decisions on a woman’s health, on who can get married and how much more to squander on defense spending. For them American exceptionalism means we have nothing to learn from anyone else. For them, the facts don’t matter. And that’s why Romney is their man.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Dennis Jett, a former U.S. ambassador to Mozambique and Peru, is a professor of international affairs at Penn State's School of International Affairs.
McClatchy Newspapers did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy Newspapers or its editors.