The comments drew a swift rebuke from Prime Minister David Cameron and, by day’s end, a public tongue-lashing by the city’s mayor as the Olympic torch arrived in Hyde Park.
“I hear there’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we’re ready,” Mayor Boris Johnson cried out to a crowd of at least 60,000. “He wants to know whether we’re ready. Are we ready? Are we ready? Yes, we are.”
Cameron, responding to the candidate with a note of irritation, said that “of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere,” an apparent reference to Salt Lake City. That city held the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, which Romney organized. The prime minister and the mayor are conservatives, making their scolding all the more embarrassing for the candidate, an otherwise sympathetic ideological ally.
It was a difficult start to Romney’s first foray on the international stage as the presumptive Republican nominee, one that was supposed to present him to U.S. voters as a potential commander in chief. Beyond his Olympics remarks, Romney had a series of uncomfortable moments — some of them seemingly minor, but distractions nonetheless.
At one point, he told reporters about his previously undisclosed meeting with the head of the MI-6, Britain’s secret intelligence agency.
On the first official day of his six-day overseas tour, Romney declined to answer reporters’ questions about his foreign policy positions , saying he will avoid talking about any policy specifics while he is on foreign soil.
He ended the day in a scene that could prove damaging for a candidate sometimes labeled as out of touch. A dinner fundraiser, which raised $2 million, was co-hosted by executives at banks under investigation in London’s rate-fixing scandal.
For any candidate on a foreign trip, the margin for error is small, with every misstep magnified, fairly or not — especially so for Romney, whose visit is drawing inevitable comparisons to Barack Obama’s largely successful foreign tour as a candidate in 2008.
The notoriously harsh British media spewed out brutal headlines about what they almost uniformly deemed a bomb of a debut for Romney. The criticism reverberated across the Atlantic and into the United States, overshadowing a day in which Romney wanted to polish his diplomatic credentials, although his surrogates insisted that they were not worried about overseas coverage.
Olympics organizers have had to cope with a series of security blunders, including a disclosure that the private contractor hired to provide guards for the Games was 3,500 staff members short. The military scrambled to fill in the gap.