When running for president of the United States, one of the necessary evils you must endure is the obligatory trip overseas. Think of it as an extended first date with your beloved’s relatives. They are taking the measure of you as they watch your every move and listen to your every word. Sure, in the grand scheme of things such a trip doesn’t mean anything to voters back home. They’re more worried about domestic concerns rather than how well you swan across the world stage. But it means a lot to the rest of the world, and heaven help you if you make a mistake.
Mitt Romney is now learning that lesson the hard way.
The presumptive Republican nominee started showing signs of Mitt-in-Mouth disease during an interview with NBC News’s Brian Williams in London yesterday. Asked whether he thought the city was ready to host the Olympics, Romney was skeptical. “It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out,” he said. “There are a few things that were disconcerting — the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials. That obviously is not something which is encouraging.”
The man who has been touting his success at turning around the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics was hammered all over London for his comments. The British press had a field day with him. But the most stinging rebuke came from the man Romney met that morning, British Prime Minister David Cameron. “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world,” Cameron said dryly. “Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”
The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.
But let’s keep something in mind. An international trip for a prospective president is always fraught with danger. The world of diplomacy is about as touchy as an exposed nerve. You don’t know it’s there until you hit it. And when you do, you run the risk of being diminished on the world stage. It’s a little difficult to be the leader of the free world when the world’s leaders think you’re a dolt.
President Obama faced this danger in 2008 when he went to the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, and then on to Jordan, Israel, France, Britain and Germany. The highlight would be an astounding speech before 200,000 in Berlin. The first-term senator who hoped to be president impressed “the relatives” wherever he went. The National Journal’s Caren Bohan, who was on that trip, wrote yesterday that Obama “managed to strike perfect pitch at press conferences and in visits with foreign leaders.”
Romney still has visits to Israel and Poland to get it right.