Mitt Romney made his first foreign trip since becoming the 2012
Republican nominee-presumptive for president. As with so many trips
of its kind before it, including a similar one by nominee Barack Obama
in 2008, it was designed both to show off Mr. Romney's foreign policy
skills and to have appeal to ethnic constituencies in the U.S.
How did he do?
In baseball terms, in three at bats, he got two hits. His first at bat was in
Great Britain, our oldest and historically strongest European ally. It
coincided with the opening of the Olympic Games in London. Since Mr.
Romney had been in charge of the Games almost two decades before, it
seemed an appropriate time and place, but if the truth be told, the former
Massachusetts governor flubbed it by implying that his hosts did not have
their act totally together. Was it hubris about his own (and genuine)
expertise on the subject, or just insensitive inexperience? Whether one of
those or both, it was a mistake, and it cost him intensely bad press for the
visit and overshadowed his later private visit with British Prime Minister
Cameron, and Romney's subsequent public statement that he would
welcome back the small bust of Winston Churchill to the Oval Office if
he were elected (President Obama had returned it to the British earlier)
In sum, Mr. Romney fouled out over the right field line.
The next leg of his visit was to Israel where Mr. Romney seemed to score
one success after another, emphatically stating his support for our ally
Israel, and identifying with the anxieties facing the Jewish state. He declared
that Jerusalem was the true capital of Israel (the U.S. currently has its embassy
in Tel Aviv), and although he met with the Palestinian prime minister as well
as with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, he left no doubt where his political
sympathies lay. In spite of the U.S. Anglo-Saxon heritage, there is no real
"British" vote in the U.S., but there is a notable Jewish vote. Most American
Jews traditionally vote Democratic by a large margin; in fact, Mr. Obama
won 78% of the U.S. Jewish vote in 2008, but the president's share of this
vote, according to recent polls, has been slipping. Nontheless, Mr. Obama
will win the majority of this vote this year. Perhaps the real constituency Mr.
Romney was aiming at was the much larger U.S. Christian evangelical
group of voters, many of whom have become strong supporters of Israel in
the Middle East crisis. As a Mormon, Mr. Romney did not do especially well
with this group during the primaries. His Israeli visit could do nothing but
improve Mr Romney's standing with evangelicals. Bottom line, Mr. Romney
hit a home run over the center field fence.
The third leg of Mitt Romney's travel across the Pond perhaps received the
least attention from the media and political observers, but may have the most
political impact back home. Visiting Poland, recently liberated from communism
and the Soviet Union, he was welcomed by one of our newest allies, albeit one
that may have felt slighted by the Obama administration. Mr. Romney was
especially invited to Gdansk by Lech Walensa, the hero of Solidarity and the
Polish revolution that liberated Poland. There. Mr. Walensa effusively greeted
Mr. Romney and, for all intents and purposes, endorsed him. (Current leaders
of Solidarity, it should be noted, disagreed with Mr Walensa, citing Mr. Romney
as anti-union in the U.S.) From there, the former Massachusetts governor went
to the capital and met with the Polish president. There he paid special tribute to
the memory of Pope John Paul II who had played such an important role in
both the liberation of Poland and the overall defeat of the Soviet Union during
the Cold War. None of this could be lost on the very sizable (mostly Catholic)
Polish-American electorate in the U.S., many of whom live in the battleground
states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Final tally, a triple to the left
field corner for Governor Romney.
Keeping with a long-standing U.S. tradition, Mr. Romney made no direct
criticism of President Obama during his trip, but his statements throughout
provided many stark contrasts with Mr Obama's actions and policies. In the
final scorecard for this election, foreign policy will almost certainly count less
than domestic economic policy. Supporters of President Obama understandably
focus on Mr. Romney's blunder in London, while supporters of Governor Romney
will understandably focus on his successes in Israel and Poland. In reality, it was
the introduction of Mitt Romney to the complex international stage.
If he is someone who learns from his experiences, as his 2012 primary/caucus
campaign indicated he did (from his unsuccessful 2008 effort), Mitt Romney
will benefit most personally from his British experience, however momentarily
unpleasant, on this visit. As Barack Obama learned in 2008, that is, being a senator
is not being a president, Mr. Romney has now has more evidence that being a
governor is not the same as working in the Oval Office.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.