Mitt Romney's trip to London, Israel and Poland will be an off-message distraction for the campaign. Yet some foreign travel for our presidential nominee is the right thing to do.
Campaign professionals know that foreign policy does not drive many votes. Any poll confirms that and 2012 is an election about the economy. Period. Seventy-three percent of voters think that jobs, the economy and the federal budget deficit are the most important issues in the presidential election, compared with only 4 percent who think the same about foreign policy.
But foreign policy and national security issues affect American lives and livelihoods constantly. Also, I can't quantify it, but as a White House veteran and a White House watcher, I think the president of the United States spends more of his time on most days dealing with foreign policy and national security issues than on any other topic. The president's day starts with a national security briefing, and dealing with some aspect of America's place in the world will consume more hours than just about anything else. If our campaigns had to reflect how the president actually spends his time, foreign policy and related issues would be at least half the campaign.
Romney will be criticized for making the trip, and by definition it is off-message for a campaign. But it is useful for American voters to get a glimpse of a potential president on the world stage, and it is useful for foreign leaders to take measure of the man that they could be dealing with on crucial issues, including questions of war and peace.
Given the reality of the importance of these issues to America's safety and future, it is too bad that foreign policy isn't more relevant to our presidential campaigns.
P.S. - The cheap shot ad that President Obama is currently running that features Romney making a valiant effort to sing “America the Beautiful” will backfire. Americans can relate to the limits of Romney's singing ability, and they can appreciate his earnestness in wanting to sing America's favorite patriotic song. Making fun of someone, in this case Romney, making a sincere effort to sing “America the Beautiful” says more about Obama than it does Romney.