Stay Home, Mitt!

By Beinart, Peter | Newsweek, August 20, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Stay Home, Mitt!


Beinart, Peter, Newsweek


Byline: Peter Beinart

The real toll of Romney's disastrous overseas trip.

A month ago, I was sure that foreign policy wouldn't matter in this presidential campaign. Turns out I was wrong. Mitt Romney's disastrous overseas jaunt has changed the presidential race. It's not because Americans care so much about the issues Romney discussed. It's because the way Romney discussed them may change the way Americans see him.

What Romney's selling this campaign, basically, is competence. Americans don't consider him as likeable as Barack Obama. Given Romney's wealth, they don't think he can identify as easily with their problems. Given his high-profile flip-flops, they don't consider him particularly honest or trustworthy. But Americans do give Romney an edge on the question of which candidate "can get things done." After all, they figure, the economy is lousy. Obama has failed to make Washington any more functional than it was before he arrived. And Romney has succeeded in virtually everything he's done. So maybe he can do a better job of making America prosperous again.

Romney's image as competent is particularly important given the last two Republicans who ran for president. It was George W. Bush's administration's inept response to Hurricane Katrina that effectively destroyed his presidency. And it was John McCain's uninformed, unhinged response to the financial crisis that helped seal his fate in the 2008 campaign. Given the Republican Party's declining reputation for economic management, Romney's personal reputation for competence has been all the more precious this election year.

And that's what makes his overseas trip so damaging. No one will remember the details: Romney's dissing of the London Olympics; his failure to remember the name of the leader of the Labour Party; his indiscreet reference to meeting the head of Britain's secret spy agency; his implication that Palestinians are culturally inferior to Jews. But they may remember that almost everywhere he went, things went wrong. Britain's prime minister rebuked him. London's mayor mocked him. Palestinian leaders called him a racist. Again and again, Romney came off as not merely insensitive, but clueless. By the end of the tour, his handlers were frantically trying to keep the traveling press corps at bay.

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