[This, like other press reports concerning the Romney campaign’s media briefing on his upcoming trip, was embargoed until 12:01 a.m]
Mitt Romney and his advisers, in setting up his foreign trip, are going to extreme lengths not to overstep Romney’s bounds while he is still a candidate. This approach inevitably draws a contrast to then-candidate Barack Obama, who in 2008 gave his we-are-the-world speech in Berlin. Obama, the only candidate who could get away with such egomania, cared not at all about upstaging the sitting president. But that is not the well-mannered Romney’s style, nor would he want to try to match Obama’s adoring crowds in Europe.
Romney, his advisers explained, is going to “learn and listen” on his trip. That said, the selection of locations, as is everything in a campaign, is implicitly critical of the president. In a conference call with reporters traveling with Romney, policy director Lanhee Chen and foreign policy director Alex Wong explained that Britain, Israel and Poland all have “a strong and important relationship with the U.S.” In other words, this is the “Obama kicked our best allies in the shins but I won’t” tour.
Romney will go to Britain, where he can underscore his role in rescuing the 1980 Olympic Games. In the Jewish state there will be “public events,” although no speech by Romney, which suggests to me a trip to the Western Wall (a spot beyond the 1967 “borders,” from which President Obama wants Israel to negotiate).
In addition to ticking off the list of foreign leaders he’ll be meeting with, the campaign advisers made the point that this will be Romney’s fourth trip to Israel. Of course, Obama hasn’t visited since he was trying to get elected. The campaign also released a long, very long, list of countries that Romney has visited. The message: This guy knows the world.
But ever careful for their candidate not to criticize the president abroad (and be slammed for it), the advisers told the press corps there will be no speeches or “specific policy pronouncements” while Romney is abroad. On Tuesday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Romney will be under no such constraints.
During the Q-and-A with reporters, the Romney team, which included Middle East expert Dan Senor, stressed that Romney wouldn’t go to Israel to show up Obama (but of course, every reporter covering the trip will make the point that Obama’s relationship has been frosty, if not downright acrimonious, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu). Senor said it’s a time to “build on relationships” Romney has previously begun with Netanyahu, Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority’s Salam Fayyad and to “lock arms” with our ally. Senor rebuffed the idea that trips to Israel and Poland (which Obama recently insulted by calling the Nazi death camps the “Polish camps,” thereby setting off a flap) were designed to specifically court Jewish voters.
Indeed, this is part and parcel of the run-up to the convention, a time when those low-information voters may be first perking up. Romney wants to make sure their first impression is of someone comfortable and confident on the world stage. The transition from party politician to credible presidential candidate gets officially under way in this race with the trip. The Romney campaign is probably smart to let the pictures do the talking overseas.