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Will Romney's Trip Move Needle For GOP?

Aug 1, 2012
Originally published on August 5, 2012 2:05 pm



This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Mitt Romney has finished an overseas tour that generated bad headlines at every stop. Now the question is whether a stream of awkward moments will influence voters. Here's NPR's Ari Shapiro.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Before Mitt Romney took off last week, Robert Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations described the reasons for and the potential risks of a trip like this.

ROBERT DANIN: He's trying to project himself as someone who can play on the world stage. Ultimately, the important thing is for him to not make any significant gaffes or mistakes.

SHAPIRO: So much for that goal. Here's a quick recap of how it went down. Stop one - Britain and a question from NBC about whether London was prepared to host the Olympics.

MITT ROMNEY: There were a few things that were disconcerting.

SHAPIRO: Diplomacy 101 - if you insult your hosts, they'll return fire. Prime Minister David Cameron mocked the 2002 games that Romney led in Salt Lake City, Utah.

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: I mean, of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.

SHAPIRO: And London's mayor Boris Johnson made Romney a laughingstock for thousands of jeering spectators.

MAYOR BORIS JOHNSON: There's a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we're ready. He wants to know whether we're ready. Are we ready? Are we ready?

SHAPIRO: Headlines in British newspapers shouted, Mitt the Twit, Nowhere Man, and Party Pooper. Then came Israel.

ROMNEY: It's a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.


SHAPIRO: That irked Palestinians and raised eyebrows at home. White House spokesman Josh Earnest says U.S. policy for the last several administrations has held that the capital should be determined in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

JOSH EARNEST: So, you know, if Mr. Romney disagrees with that position he's also disagreeing with the position that was taken by presidents like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.

SHAPIRO: If Romney's speech in Jerusalem raised eyebrows, his comments later raised hackles. At a private fundraiser, he told supporters that Israelis have been more economically successful than Palestinians partly because of Jewish culture. One Palestinian leader accused Romney of racism. Here in the States, reaction from the Council on American-Islamic Relations was a bit more temperate.

CORY SAYLOR: I try not to get visceral during Ramadan.

SHAPIRO: Cory Saylor is CAIR's national legislative director.

SAYLOR: What he's done is he's essentially told the Palestinian people that they're inferior. I mean, that's just unacceptable from anybody who hopes to be involved in diplomacy.

SHAPIRO: Romney's last stop was Poland. The candidate did not make much news there, but an aide did. Rick Gorka grabbed headlines for cursing at reporters who were trying to ask Romney questions. Politico picked up the audio.

RICK GORKA: Show some respect here.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We haven't had another chance to ask him questions.

GORKA: Kiss my (bleep). This is a holy site for the Polish people.

SHAPIRO: Gorka also said shove it and later apologized to reporters. Politico dubbed it the Week from Hell for Romney. And Republican consultant Ed Rollins says there's some truth to that.

ED ROLLINS: Was this an error-proof trip? No. Could there have been other things that came out of it? Sure. But at the end of the day, is this going to matter to voters come next November? No.

SHAPIRO: Even a foreign policy advisor to the Obama campaign agrees that if this makes a difference, it'll be a small one. Colin Kahl was a senior Pentagon official who is now at Georgetown.

COLIN KAHL: Will it be decisive for a huge chunk of the electorate? Probably not. But at the margins I think it will matter and that it's an advantage which will, you know, work pretty importantly in President Obama's direction.

SHAPIRO: He notes that this is the first time in a generation a Democratic presidential candidate has polled much higher than the Republican on issues of national security and foreign policy. And Kahl says Romney's trip is unlikely to move the needle in the Republican's favor.

KAHL: These gaffes are more than just gaffes. I mean, part of, you know, auditioning to be the president of the United States is auditioning to be the diplomat-in-chief around the world.

SHAPIRO: But talking about this trip purely in terms of diplomacy misses one of Romney's major goals. In two of the three stops, he held mega-fundraisers. At $50,000 a ticket, one event alone raised more than a million dollars for his campaign. And that money could help win over voters.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.