What’s undeniable: former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s trip to London did not go as planned. Let’s review:
* He called security problems for the Olympics “disconcerting.” The gaffe led to jabs from Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson. Romney, who has promised a “No Apologies” approach to the world, was forced to repeatedly backtrack.
* He talked about his meeting with the leader of MI6, Britain’s secret intelligence service. Such meetings are normally kept secret.
* Anonymous officials snarked to the Daily Mail that Romney was a “total car crash,” “worse than Sarah Palin,” and “apparently devoid of charm, warmth, humour or sincerity.”
* The trip spawned a trending Twitter topic: #romneyshambles.
What’s less clear: whether anyone (outside of the “small island” of England) cares.
“We’re not worried about overseas headlines. We’re worried about voters back here at home in America,” Louisisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said Thursday in Romney’s defense. He makes a good point.
The British press is notoriously nasty, and for years Obama has been its target. Yet in the latest WSJ-NBC poll, voters think the president handles foreign policy better than Romney would by 15 points. Few likely know or care that Obama moved a bust of Winston Churchill or chose “appalling” gifts for Brown’s sons.
Moreover, foreign policy is a very low priority for voters; about one percent of Americans consider it the most important issue right now. Despite Obama’s advantage in international affairs, most polls show a deadlocked tight race.
It’s also not clear that any trip abroad, good or bad, will move numbers. Obama got a modest bump over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in polls in the days after his July 2008 trip abroad, but the race quickly narrowed again.
“I don’t think that we’ll see a bump in the polls. I think we might even lose some points,” he told the Post at the time. But, he added, there could be a more subtle, long-term advantage: “It gives voters a sense that I can in fact — and do — operate effectively on the international stage.”
Romney could be similarly polishing his image as not just a businessman but a statesman. Instead, he’s raising questions about his readiness.
“I think it shows a certain inexperience in international affairs,” said Jessica Matthews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Certainly it makes him quite unpopular with the British and I think to no constructive end.”
Romney has attacked Obama as a bumbling leader who “has diminished American leadership” and let important relationships whither. Now, whenever he tries to raise that attack, Obama and his allies can respond: Remember London?