Mitt Romney’s Charmless British Gaffe Offensive

In an effort to boost his foreign policy experience, presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney embarked on a week-long, three-country tour yesterday that will take him to England, Israel and Poland.

Based on his performance in England, I’m hoping he doesn’t attempt Jewish and Polish jokes during his next two stops.

Governor Romney began his tour of England by sitting down with NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. When asked a softball question, Mr. Romney gave an answer that didn’t exactly demonstrate his international savior-faire:

NBC Anchor Brian Williams: “In the short time you’ve been in London, do they look ready to your experienced eye?”

Governor Mitt Romney: “You know, it’s hard to know just how well it will turn out. 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. Because in the games, there are three parts that makes games successful….but number three are the people of the country. Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? And that’s something which we only find out once the games actually begin.”

 

Those comments caused a bit of an international incident. British Prime Minister David Cameron—a conservative—retorted by pointedly knocking Mr. Romney’s experience as the head of the Salt Lake City Olympics:

“We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”

 

And London Mayor Boris Johnson told a group of 60,000 people in Hyde Park that:

“There are some people coming from around the world who don’t yet know if we are ready. There’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we are ready. Are we ready?”  (crowd screams “yes!”)

 

David Cameron and Mitt Romney\’s Awkward Meeting. Photo AP Charles Dharapk

And that one gaffe wasn’t the only one. According to The Guardian, Mr. Romney said that he had been “looking out of the backside of 10 Downing Street” (regarded in England as looking out the “ass” of 10 Downing Street), and called the head of the British opposition party by the wrong title.

Even worse, I couldn’t help cringing during tonight’s NBC Nightly News, in which Mr. Romney said (in an interview taped yesterday):

“We’re at a point here where we have two different roads we can go down. One leads to Europe. The other leads to the kind of dynamism and prosperity, which has always characterized America.”

 

That may seem rather tame, but remember: He made those comments while in Europe, trying to charm Europe. That’s kind of like charming your first date by telling her she might want to rethink the burger and order a salad instead.

Gov. Romney may be right on the facts. But being an accurate truth-spouter isn’t the purpose of his overseas trip. His goal was to earn headlines as someone capable of being a strong international leader and to demonstrate that he understands at least the basic precepts of diplomacy. He isn’t succeeding, and worse, may have turned this trip into a net negative.

As a media trainer, the surprising thing to me is his gracelessness. He could have made all of the same points without offending anyone simply by calibrating his language more carefully. Is London ready? “Well, there have been troubling reports, but England is a great and proud country and I’m confident they’ll pull it off.”

Despite Mr. Romney’s lousy introduction to one of America’s most reliable allies, his gaffes may be erased by the calendar. When the Opening Ceremony takes place tomorrow, most Americans’ attention will shift from politics to sports. And his gaffes will be largely forgotten after he names his running mate, stars in the Republican convention, and participates in three presidential debates.

But just to be safe, perhaps Mr. Romney should simply nod and smile in Israel and Poland instead of pontificating near microphones?

What do you think? Do these gaffes matter, or are they much ado about nothing? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.