Mitt Romney is passing up a golden opportunity to get booed in France.
When the presumptive Republican nominee travels abroad this week, he’ll stop in England, Poland, and Israel. As the Fiscal Times and others noted, Romney will fly right over the eurozone countries whose fiscal crisis is threatening the global recovery right now.
Conventional wisdom is that this is a safe move. Romney doesn’t want to take any ownership of the euro crisis, and delivering a major speech in Paris, Berlin, or Rome could give him some. He would also risk undermining the main political goal of the trip--burnishing his foreign-policy credentials--by diving into an economic crisis that many Americans still regard as distant and abstract.
Put it this way: The eurozone is a smoldering wreck right now. Spain’s borrowing costs have soared into the danger zone. Italy’s caretaker technocratic government is struggling to advance reforms and fend off calls for snap elections. Moody’s has basically downgraded the Continent. “European woes spreading,” Barclays Capital blared in a research note on Wednesday morning.
What does Romney have to gain by stepping into that chaos?
Maybe a lot--politically and diplomatically.
Romney has criticized President Obama’s engagement in the euro crisis but hasn’t said much about how he’d intervene if elected. Rolling out some general principles, in a hub of the crisis no less, could win him political points back home.
Romney could play the stars-and-stripes card, telling the French, or the Italians, or the Greeks, “If you want to climb out of this mess, you need to act more like America.”
By offering a broad prescription for liberalizing labor markets, breaking up state-run industries to inject competition, and accelerating reforms such as raising retirement ages for government workers, Romney could reinforce his campaign themes that traditional American capitalism is an unparalleled vehicle for growth.
That’s basically the advice John Cochrane, a prominent supply-side economist at the University of Chicago, offered Romney in an interview with National Journal earlier this summer. Cochrane says a dose of “shock liberalization” in troubled European countries is the only way to flood markets with confidence and revive growth in the E.U.
“The U.S. has basically been telling Europe that it should be doing more Keynesian stimulus. That’s a terrible idea,” Cochrane said. “I would love to see more explicit free-market statements from Mr. Romney.”
Many Europeans, of course, don’t like to be lectured by Americans, especially about economics. Many Americans, for many reasons, like to see their leaders stick it to Europe, at least rhetorically. So if Romney tells France that Europe needs to act more American to solve its crisis, and Parisians jeer him, that’ll play pretty well on American cable news, n’est pas?
Behind the scenes, Romney could reassure European leaders that he’s not anti-Europe, just pro-market, and promise to throw his weight as president behind market-opening reforms such as those proposed by Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti.
European diplomats weren’t pleased during the Republican primary, when Romney made the Continent a favorite punching bag during his stump speeches. Now would be a good time to remind those leaders that he knows how valuable the transatlantic alliance is, and to give them some clues as to how he would help solve their crisis.