The Obama campaign is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on attack ads targeting Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Save your money, folks: the former Massachusetts governor needs little help in savaging his own reputation and prestige. What’s even better, just about every news organization in the world is showing it for free.
After just three days in London, on a tour that was supposed to demonstrate his qualities as a statesman and a leader, a chastened Romney leaves the United Kingdom widely reviled as a laughing stock and, worse, a “wazzock” – whatever that is.
It was not only Romney’s widely publicized remarks that the British capital did not seem ready for the Games; that, at least, had the merit of bringing Londoners together for once in support of the great world sporting extravaganza. After months of “whinging” about everything from traffic snarls to anti-aircraft missiles installed on apartment rooftops, thousands of newly enthusiastic Brits thundered their approval when London Mayor Boris Johnson asked, “Are we ready?”
Johnson then led the crowd in a chant of “Yes, we can” – an obvious tribute to US President Barack Obama, whose 2008 campaign resounded to the same cry.
Romney repeatedly demonstrated why his handlers should never, ever let him out of their sight: in a press conference outside No. 10 Downing Street, he proudly touted his productive meetings with “the head of MI6.” This gave British officials heart palpitations: the super secret intelligence agency is, by tacit agreement, almost never mentioned in public, and no one on the British side would confirm that such a meeting took place.
The series of gaffes prompted one of Britain’s newspapers, The Examiner, to ask a rather pointed question:
“Why vote for a man who, on his first foreign trip as a presidential candidate, insults one of America’s staunchest allies… and can’t even keep a secret? Asked another way... is Mitt Romney ready to be president?”
It was not just the choleric Brits who were appalled by Romney’s shambolic performance. Carl Lewis, the great American track star and winner of 10 Olympic medals, was unsparing in his remarks to The Telegraph:
“I swear, sometimes I think some Americans shouldn't leave the country. Are you kidding me, stay home if you don't know what to say."
Not exactly the effect Romney was looking for.
More from GlobalPost: Mr. Romney goes to Israel
Romney and his wife, Anne, tried to repair the damage with an interview on CNN first aired on Thursday night: in a long, rambling conversation with Piers Morgan, the candidate tried once again to boost his credentials as Mr. Fixit:
“The country is in need of a turnaround. The Olympics was a turnaround. There are businesses I've been associated with that needed a turnaround. That kind of experience, of focusing on the most critical issue, building the most effective team possible, creating a common vision, unifying around that vision, and then delivering results, is something I think the American people would like to see in our economy right now.”
Romney’s reference to the “Olympic turnaround” goes back to 2002, when he was credited with rescuing the Salt Lake City Winter Games.
But what Romney regards as one of his greatest achievements also came in for opprobrium in Prime Minister David Cameron’s acid response to the American’s criticisms:
“Of course it’s easier when you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere,” he said in remarks to reporters.
More from GlobalPost: Romney camp highlights 'Anglo-Saxon' bond with Britain
Salt Lake City objected to the characterization, and promptly hit back.
“I seem to recall another British leader in years past making a similar dismissive comment,” said Utah Governor Gary Herbert. “Back then it was King George and those ‘little colonies’ over the ocean in America."
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker was similarly displeased. He cited Utah’s “world-class recreation opportunities, economic prosperity and progressive education," and issued a rather ungracious invitation:
“[Cameron] can stop by any time. We'd love to have him and are happy to send a map so he doesn't run into any trouble locating the middle of nowhere."
So, not only has Romney made something of a fool of himself across the water, he has prompted an international incident that continues to escalate.
Today Romney heads for Israel, where he will meet with his old friend Benjamin Netanyahu, now the Israeli prime minister, but back in the 1970s a colleague at the Boston Consulting Group.
One can only hope, for Romney’s sake, that this visit will be a bit more scripted than the London fiasco. But given the numerous landmines that dot the political landscape in the Middle East, things could get tense.
Team Obama, keep your cameras at the ready.