Will Mitt Romney’s trip abroad affect his chances in November?

August 1, 2012

As Mitt Romney wraps up his trip abroad, a series of negative headlines has raised questions about the trip’s effectiveness for the presidential hopeful - even within his own party. But although the trip has caused controversy, Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake reported that issues such as the economy may matter more to constituents than Romney’s foreign faux pas:

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 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.

Romney made headlines in Israel Monday with comments about the “cultural” differences between the Israeli and Palestinian economies. Scott Wilson reported:

Romney’s international-foray-as-campaign-tour was epitomized by his centerpiece stay in Israel, where on Monday he told an audience of American donors that the sluggish Palestinian economy is plagued more by “cultural” differences than by the strictures of the decades-old Israeli occupation.

“I was thinking this morning as I prepared to come into this room of a discussion I had across the country in the United States about my perceptions about differences between countries,” Romney told the gathering at Jerusalem's King David Hotel, where he raised more than $1 million.

The assessment is one not widely shared within Israel, and suggested a lack of sustained study or nuanced understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.

He went on to compare Israel’s economy with that of the Palestinian territories, which he seemed to suggest make up a country of their own. He said that Israel’s annual per-capita gross domestic product is $21,000 — it is actually $32,282 — and that the Palestinian figure is $10,000 — more than five times as large as it actually is.

“You notice a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality,” Romney noted. “And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.”

Before venturing to Israel and Poland, Romney spent time in London last week, where he drew criticism for his concern over London’s preparation for the Olympic Games. The Washington Post staff reported

Republican presidential candidate insulted Britain as it welcomed the world for the Olympics by casting doubt on London’s readiness for the Games, which open Friday, saying that the preparations he had seen were “disconcerting” and that it is “hard to know just how well it will turn out.”

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.

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