Mitt Romney’s foreign trip didn’t go well. Does it matter?

at 06:30 AM ET, 07/31/2012

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney later today wraps up his foreign tour, a trip that drew a series of negative headlines and has left many Republicans wondering what exactly the GOP presidential nominee was hoping to accomplish.

The assessments of the trip, which saw Romney visit London, Israel and Poland over the past week, ranged from scathing to resigned among the Republican professional political class.

“I find this entire trip borderline lunacy,” said one senior Republican strategist granted anonymity to speak candidly. “Why on earth is he seeking to improve his foreign policy cred when there will not be a single vote cast on that subject?”

Ed Rogers, a longtime Republican operative, was more measured, but acknowledged that the trip was something short of a unqualified success.

“Romney abroad is the same as Romney at home,” said Rogers. “His performance is uneven at times, but overall, pretty good.” Added Rogers: “Let’s face it, Romney can’t win, but Obama can lose.”

Another veteran Republican political consultant reached for a golf metaphor when asked to explain Romney’s performance in Europe — and whether it will hurt his campaign domestically.

“He’s like the guy who is a competent-but-not-gifted athlete who learns to play golf,” said the GOP source. “He works really hard at it, and most of the time he’s perfectly competent, if not stellar. But once each round he is going to shank one and break a window on a house lining the golf course.”

Those aren’t the sort of impressions Romney wanted to create when he left for Europe at this time last week. The goal of the trip seemed obvious — a chance for Romney to prove to doubters that he was more than up to serving as the face of America on the world stage.

Those close to the Romney campaign reject even the idea that the foreign trip was a net negative for them. Yes, the candidate made a few errors, they acknowledge, but they were minor when compared to the overall message — praise from Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and an endorsement from Poland’s Lech Walesa — that the average American voter received from Romney’s travels over the last week. As evidence, they point to a series of front pages in swing states like the Palm Beach Post, the Dayton Daily News and the Las Vegas Review Journal — all of which played the Israel visit very favorably.

While no one in the political orbits of either Romney or President Obama thinks that this election will be decided by foreign policy, there is a sense that a challenger with little experience in that area has to show that he can meet a minimum level of credibility abroad.

Call it the commander-in-chief test, which, according to the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, Romney had yet to pass; in that survey 45 percent of respondents said Obama would make the better commander in chief, while just 35 percent said Romney would be superior on that front.

It’s hard to imagine that Romney did himself any favors in answering lingering questions about his foreign policy acumen during this trip.

On the other hand, there is an argument to be made that nothing — literally, nothing — other than the economy at home matters to undecided voters. And that goes double for foreign policy, which is a bottom-of-mind issue (is that a thing?) for most voters.

In a late May Washington Post-ABC News poll, 1 — yes, one — percent of people said that foreign policy was the most important issue of the 2012 campaign. One!

The problem for Romney coming off of this trip is even many of his staunchest defenders within the party seem to have fallen back on a “he’s not great but he doesn’t need to be great” argument.

While that argument may wind up working — no president since World War II has been reelected with anything close to the 8+ percent unemployment rate Obama is likely to face — it’s not one that will inspire huge amounts of confidence in the GOP as summer turns to fall.

Cruz vs. Dewhurst today: All eyes will be on Texas tonight, when Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former state solicitor general Ted Cruz face off for what is effectively a ticket to the Senate.

Cruz is the favorite in the GOP primary runoff despite finishing second in the first round of voting.

Whoever wins, the general election appears to be little more than a formality. Democrats thought they had a strong candidate, but their recruit, retired general Ricardo Sanchez, quickly fizzled.

If Cruz wins, the GOP has a new young conservative Latino star on its hands and the tea party has it’s biggest win of the election cycle.

If Dewhurst somehow pulls it out, it will be a triumph of the political establishment and money; the wealthy Dewhurst holds a powerful post in Texas and had plenty of the advantages that come with it, including the backing of Gov. Rick Perry.

For more on the key House runoffs, see the Hotline’s preview.

Bill Clinton hits popularity high: Former president Bill Clinton is more popular than he’s been since his first year as president, according to a new Gallup poll.

Clinton, who it was announced Monday will formally nominate Obama at the Democratic National Convention, is viewed favorably by 66 percent of Americans. The last time he hit that number was shortly after he assumed office in 1993.

The former president saw his post-presidency approval rise to 63 percent in 2007, but it took a hit as his wife ran for president in 2008, sinking to 50 percent. Since then, though, it has taken off again, making him one of the most popular politicians in the country — and a valuable surrogate for Obama.

Fixbits:

Tim Pawlenty says Obama is “all froth and no beer.”

Rep. Shelley Berkley’s (D-Nev.) Senate campaign is up with a country-themed radio ad playing up Sen. Dean Heller’s (R-Nev.) two votes for Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget.

Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren will speak right before Clintonat the Democratic National Convention.

Hillary Clinton speaks out against Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who has accused Clinton aide Huma Abedin of possible connections to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) announces a surprise retirement, but his seat should be safe for the GOP.

Must-reads:

In Israel, Romney wows crowds but puzzles with grasp of Palestinian relationship” — Scott Wilson, Washington Post

Gridlock may not be all bad for Obama” — Steven T. Dennis, Roll Call

Obama’s purported link to early American slave is latest twist in family tree” — Krissah Thompson, Washington Post

Congressional leaders near budget deal to keep government running” — Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post

Tea party retools as network of field operatives, keeps pushing GOP rightward” — Douglas A. Blackmon, Washington Post

 
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