“Kiss my [expletive],” the aide, Rick Gorka, told reporters as they shouted questions at Romney. “This is a holy site for Polish people. Show some respect.”
The moment illustrated Romney’s tumultuous overseas visit, which was intended to show voters in the United States that the former Massachusetts governor can be a statesman but ended up underscoring doubts about whether he and his campaign are ready for the next three months.
Romney flew home leaving two questions in his wake: Would the gaffes that dogged him abroad cause political damage at home, and did the trip speak to deeper problems in his campaign that could significantly hamper his hopes of winning in November?
Romney advisers continued Tuesday to say what they have said from the first misstep in London — when the candidate questioned whether Britain was prepared for the Olympics — which is that none of the problems that drew so much attention would affect voters.
Republican strategists outside the campaign agreed. They contended that the trip occurred at a time when Americans are focused much more on the Olympics or summer vacations. Coverage in regional papers, they say, projected Romney as a strong friend of U.S. allies and tough on Iran. Other accounts — such as the candidate offending Palestinian leaders by saying in Jerusalem that the Palestinian economy is weaker than that of Israel because of “culture” issues — were played down by Republican supporters as brief lapses largely hyped by the national media.
“He had a good flight plan, but wasn’t wearing a seat belt, hit a lot of turbulence, and lost some altitude, but in the end returned safely,” said Mark McKinnon, a media adviser to former President George W. Bush.
Whatever the fallout, there were aspects of the trip that drew attention to what could be viewed as weaknesses in Romney’s overall operation, from the messaging team to questions about whether the campaign provides the candidate with all the support he needs.
From the perspective of the Romney campaign, the tour accomplished a variety of goals, including the delivery of messages in Israel and Poland designed to appeal to Jewish, evangelical and Roman Catholic voters in the United States. Romney gave three foreign policy speeches, including one to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Reno, Nev., the day he left. But he arrived in London, where he spent three full days, with no particular message.
What he lacked was a strategy designed to draw attention to his role in turning around the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, which is generally regarded one of the highlights on his résumé. That left it to the British and American media to fill the vacuum with reports about his Olympics comments — which had some Republicans shaking their heads.