National candidate’s European vacation: Why Mitt should’ve stayed home
Poor Mitt. Despite the listless U.S. economy, the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the abyss the euro zone still faces, his campaign is showing the world that it’s hard to go up against an incumbent, even one who is as potentially vulnerable as President Obama. Team Romney had to hope that the jobs report that came out on Friday would be very bad, so it could continue to pin the country’s economic malaise on Obama’s policies. Instead it got a mixed report – good hiring, but an uptick in the unemployment rate – that made it hard for Republicans to present a clear message to the American people.
Of course, what we’re seeing in this campaign is that Romney hardly needs the Department of Labor’s help when it comes to presenting mixed messages. If Romney were a smarter candidate, or had a smarter team around him, he’d absolutely hammer Obama on the economy, to the exclusion of any other issue. That’s right – no talk about healthcare, immigration, gay marriage, contraception in Catholic hospitals or Osama bin Laden. Romney’s campaign, if he wants to win, should be all economy, all the time.
Any college kid getting a poli sci degree could tell Romney that. So why on earth did his campaign just waste a week in the UK, Israel and Poland? Those three countries are American allies, to be sure, but they also don’t matter nearly as much as they used to. As such, leaving aside his constant stream of gaffes while on his tour, he didn’t get much out of his trip. Sure, Poland and the UK were happy to flatter him (to the extent that they could, given the foot he had in his mouth about the London Olympics and his shutting out of the press throughout the trip, especially in Warsaw). His stop in Warsaw may have had some impact on Polish-American swing-state voters, while Israel was important to large chunks of his American constituency, especially super PAC funder and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
For Romney to have taken an international trip that would matter, there’s one place he might’ve considered going: Japan. Between Japan’s economic efforts and its rebuilding after the tsunami and Fukushima disasters, it’s an extremely relevant country to U.S. interests that would’ve welcomed him with open arms. Unfortunately, it would also have required him to buy into the Obama administration’s pivot toward Asia. For someone who doesn’t have a ton of foreign policy credibility yet, it could also have made for even more disastrous gaffes than did the trio of countries he ended up visiting. So, in the end, why take the trip at all? Romney should’ve stayed home.
Instead of visiting the most important countries to U.S. interests, he picked a safe trio of “Avis” countries. As second-tier allies, “they try harder” to compete for U.S. attention, but there’s little to gain for a U.S. politician in rewarding them with it. As Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton do a very good job (most analysts believe) in meeting the challenges facing the world in the 21st century, Romney visited a trio of countries that epitomized the challenges of the last century. As icing on the cake, the press couldn’t stop making comparisons with then-candidate Obama’s 2008 trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. Where Obama casually drained a 3-point shot in a military gym, Romney had to vehemently deny he would stick around to watch his wife’s horse compete in Olympic dressage, otherwise known as “horse ballet.”
Romney’s visit exposed a number of awkward truths about the candidate: his fantastic wealth, his catering to the wishes of his super PAC benefactor with his trip to Israel, and his peculiar temperament, as shown by his skepticism about the ability of London to have successful Olympic games and his press secretary’s outburst at a Polish war memorial. If Romney wants to win the presidency, his best bet is to run a 21st-century version of a “front porch” campaign: Stay close to home, and hammer away at the idea that Obama has mismanaged the U.S. economy. Romney must become a single-issue candidate to win the election. Any other use of his time will likely mean he’ll wind up with plenty of spare time – and a permanent vacation come November.
This essay is based on a transcribed interview with Bremmer.
PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is pictured before delivering foreign policy remarks at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem, July 29, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed