Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Dan Senor. He is a senior adviser to the Romney campaign and co-author of a 2009 book about Israel.
Mitt Romney’s misadventures abroad are no doubt less important to many voters than the state of their pocketbooks or even how many medals American swimmer Michael Phelps ends up collecting at the Games.
The bad news for Romney, as even some Republicans concede, is that his serial stumbles had the effect of distracting from what his campaign sought to initially accomplish on his six-day trip overseas: highlight Romney’s success in running the 2002 Winter Olympics, present himself as a better ally of Israel than President Obama, and impress Polish-Americans in swing states.
“It comes under the heading ‘seemed like a good idea at the time,’ ” assessed John Pitney, a former Republican National Committee aide and now a political-science professor at Claremont McKenna College. “If the plan was to burnish his foreign-policy credentials and remind people of his leadership at the Winter Olympics, that was a very sensible idea on paper, but in practice it didn’t work out as the campaign had hoped.”
Republican strategist Ed Rogers, a former Reagan aide and a veteran of the Bush-Quayle campaign, awarded the trip a 4 on a scale of 10. "The question always is if you had to do all over again and get the exact same results, would you do it again?" he said. "Well, in this case, no. But it’s not that big of a deal.”
At the beginning of Romney's six-day visit, a variety of his British hosts told the presumptive GOP nominee to figuratively shove it for his comments suggesting the city was ill-prepared for the Olympics. On Tuesday in Warsaw, Poland, a frustrated traveling press secretary Rick Gorka literally told reporters shouting questions at Romney to “shove it.”
Sandwiched in between London and Poland, Romney also managed to outrage Palestinian leaders when he said at a fundraiser in Israel that the economic differences between the two countries were in part due to “culture” — never mind a military occupation. The campaign said that Romney’s comments were “grossly mischaracterized,” even as it kept hammering home the point that he’s made similar comparisons between the United States and Mexico and between Chile and Ecuador, among others.
Republican consultant John Feehery, a former House GOP aide, said that the problem boils down to the Romney campaign being unprepared for an unforgiving international spotlight. “The media is throwing fastballs at Mitt Romney’s head and he’s got to do a better job at ducking them,” he said. “What they didn’t anticipate was how hot the media glare was going to be. They wanted to go over there and not make any news and they ended up making some.”
Feehery said, however, that none of Romney’s mistakes were fatal. Amateur sociology probably isn’t Romney's calling, he said, but his remarks on the London Olympics had some truth to them, even if they didn’t go over all too well with Brits. “What we’re finding out about Romney is that he’s not a natural-born politician,” he said. “He speaks the truth almost too plainly and some people don’t like to hear it.”
GOP consultant Curt Anderson placed more of the blame on a gaffe-obsessed media intent on making mountains out of molehills. “The press is obviously bored. ‘Oh he opened the door with his left hand in Spain! How foolish! You’re not supposed to do that!’ ” he said. “I don’t think the voters are going to care about that.”
Many Republicans said that the trip wasn’t a total wash. Romney succeeded in emphasizing his ties to Israel, despite the flap over his “culture” comments—a move that could be useful in courting Jewish voters at home—and he snagged the endorsement of former Polish President Lech Walesa.
“People understand that big elections are about big things,” Romney senior strategist Stuart Stevens told reporters, according to pool reports. “And I think that one thing we’ve learned about this race is only that which is important matters. This is not a race that has been affected by small things at all.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., echoed the point. “It’s overall been a very successful tour. He’s got the big picture right,” Graham said. “Iran is an unacceptable threat with a nuclear weapon. We’re going to stand behind Israel’s back. [In] Poland, we’re not going to leave you hanging if I’m president.” As for the culture clash, “He didn’t mean Palestinians are lazy and Israelis work hard. I think he’s clarified that.”
Part of the problem with the jaunt abroad may have been that the usually meticulously prepared Romney took a lean team with him—three senior staffers in all, with guest appearances by, among others, former senator Jim Talent and senior Romney adviser Dan Senor, co-author of a 2009 book about Israel, according to The Washington Post. Candidate Barack Obama, in contrast, took 14 aides and staffers with him on his big foreign trip in 2008.
Nonetheless, nobody wrote off Romney’s team, long extolled for its organization and discipline. “I thought the Bush team was good but the Romney people make the Bush people look like cowboys running around,” said GOP strategist Rich Galen. “These guys have a strategy and they’re sticking to it.”
The overriding sentiment among Republicans was that the events of the past few days won’t register with voters at all when they cast their ballots for president. And Great Britain and the Palestinian territories have a combined zero electoral votes.
“In November, no one is going to say that I didn’t like he what he said about the Olympics,” said Rogers.
Galen can count on one hand the number of days it will take for the Romney campaign to change the subject: two, when the July jobs report comes out on Friday. “All of the conversations about the Olympics and the Palestinians and the press secretary getting cranky, they don’t even make the asterisk level when it comes to importance compared to the jobs reports,” he said.
Amy Harder, Sara Sorcher, and Sarah Huisenga contributed.