By Nicholas Morine
The fallout surrounding Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s controversial comments during the Olympics and beyond
Few men are under the sort of intense scrutiny embattled Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is facing these days. The challenger to the throne currently occupied by President Barack Obama, Romney is, for good or for ill, thrust into the spotlight. Whether he shines or not is a matter of perspective, however there can be no doubt that the most recent flap concerning his comments made during an Olympic-inspired visit to
London has drawn a great deal of negative feedback.
The famous comments?
The whole affair began when Romney appeared on NBC prior to the opening ceremonies, speaking openly regarding his skepticism that Britain had a professional grasp on their security situation, stating his “disconcerting” feelings regarding the organization. Romney concluded: “It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out.”
Prime Minister David Cameron was quick to shoot back a witty mind-your-own-beeswax in reply, stating:
“We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”
Of course, Mr. Cameron is referring to Romney’s own much heralded experience in taking over the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, Utah. If this wasn’t bad enough, in the days that followed there would be several more gaffes demanding Romney’s attention, and indeed, the attention of Republican Party. Given that this Olympic trip was initially conceived as an opportunity for their candidate to display his international clout and diplomatic charisma, this false start was a bad omen of things to come.
After these initial comments, a conference call with US media was arranged with Republican Governors of Louisiana and Virginia, Bobby Jindal and Bob McDonnell respectively — an obvious attempt to stifle the flames and put water on the fire.
Unfortunately, the conference accomplished little; one after the other, the scandals continued to mount as Romney and his campaign team continued to falter.
Romney was continually dogged from day one; when he arrived in London on the 25th he was accompanied by a staffer whom The Telegraph quoted as stating:
“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special… the White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.”
A fairly obvious dog whistle, such a comment was politically misjudged and immediately prompted loud allegations of racism; Romney’s team was forced to recant the comments, the candidate himself stating that he does not share the view of his unknown advisor. This particular criticism continues to stalk Romney in the face of continuing comments which show a lack of cultural sensitivity.
Britain is not alone in this; Romney appears to be continuing on what The Guardian’s Rachel Sabi calls an “insult the world tour”, with many Pakistanis crying foul regarding comments the Republican contender made at a recent fundraising dinner in Jerusalem. Referring to the difference between Israel’s GDP and that of nearby Pakistan, Romney told the assembled crowd that the wealth gap between the two nations could be boiled down to culture.
“Culture makes all the difference.”
An honest assessment of the differences between Israel’s modern, US-subsidized infrastructure versus that of a depleted, refugee-ridden and war-torn Pakistan would have to include more than an extremely vague catch-all. Such a direct obfuscation of a very contentious situation works only to serve the interest of one party, with disregard to the truth of the matter. Whether one sides with the Israeli equation or that of the Pakistanis, both, or neither, these remarks show a dismissive mind towards serious international struggles.
During the tour and well beforehand, Romney has been vocally critical of both Russia and China, casting Russia as “America’s no. 1 geopolitical foe” and having a page on his official website entitled “Take China to the Mat”, wherein Governor Romney promises to stop outsourcing and fight back for American domestic jobs. Given his involvement with Bain Capital and the constant labelling of Romney as a “vulture capitalist” by his detractors, this seems a very odd political thrust to take, strategically.
This Republican antipathy for Russia has won him some international support in Poland (though to keep up the rude rep, one of his press aides recently told a reporter to “shove it” at a Polish press meet), though his hawkish position on China has drawn nothing but bad blood.
Chinese state broadcaster Xinhua reported on Romney’s comments regarding Pakistan and Israel on July 31st:
“Romney’s remarks totally neglect historical facts and are actually irresponsible if he just meant to appeal to voters at home… Any words that favor any party to the conflict regardless of history and reality are irresponsible and unfair for Palestinians who are in a less powerful position in the peace talks. They may even result in a much worse situation in this region by intensifying the differences between the two sides.”
While the world continues to watch this ersatz tour with baited breath for what offense is sure to come, it must be remembered that it all began with Britain, and the 2012 Olympic Games in particular. The Olympics have become the biggest athletic spectacle on Earth, twisted in modern times with politics and economics, blended until one is not distinctly recognizable from the other. So it is that politics itself has become a hotly debated, highly watched sport.
With The Daily Mail, the Times of London and other outlets publishing headlines referring to Romney as “Mitt the Twit” and “The Nowhere Man”, even the most objective observer has to note the negative taste that the Republican presidential hopeful has left in the mouth of many Britons. The positive outcome, however, is that Mr. Romney’s negativity and skepticism have forced Britons to rally around the flag and to remember that they are all countrymen. Perhaps the silver lining to this political sideshow is that the people themselves find a little more Olympic spirit, returning a “united” sentiment to the UK.
How does this affect Romney’s chances in the General Election against Obama?
When one considers that the United States and the United Kingdom are very close allies and trade partners, this can be nothing but bad news for Romney as the race enters the home stretch. We are stronger united than divided, and Mr. Romney would do well to remember that in America as well as in countries abroad.
There can be little doubt that this tour has been a disaster for the Romney team. The initial sentiment of setting up a globetrotting world tour in order to showcase the strength of your candidate’s international diplomatic skills is entirely reversed when the candidate in question exhibits an arrogant and dismissive demeanour. Ignorance of regional politics, politicians, and cultural differences are highlighted by this trip and have done little to cement Romney’s reputation as anything other than the elitist the Democratic Party would love to label him as.
It remains to be seen how this issue will play out domestically for American voters, however. International outrage and a million offended Britons won’t tally to many votes in American polls.
The periphery becomes more important; the character that is shown by these motions is revealed to the American electorate. It’s not pretty. Mitt Romney has always had an image problem, whether it be strapping his dog in a cage to his roof for a road trip to Canada or a refusal to show tax returns that may or may not indicate offshoring income and tax code manipulation.
Nonetheless, the love affair is over for Obama as well. The incumbent President has lost the explosive love affair with his citizens that swelled in previous years. President Obama is drawing a great deal of vocal criticism for his moderate, almost classically Republican approach to issues such as the failing War on Drugs, continued military expansion and conflict overseas, and the uncomfortable relationship between Homeland Security and civil liberties. Guantanamo Bay remains open for business.
Unmanned drone strikes continue to spill blood for the stars and stripes around the world. Progressives voice discontent with Obama for failing to deliver to them the egalitarian society he described in 2008.
Is that enough to give Romney the edge, even after a highly troubled campaign and an even worse international tour? *
It’s doubtful: dissatisfied liberals will almost surely vote for Obama regardless of their disagreements with his performance given the alternative and the polarized nature of the current political landscape in modern democracies. In the end, anything can happen. Surely nobody predicted that Governor Romney’s trip would end up with so many scandals and fiascos along the way, let alone the Governor himself.
There’s still a very long road to travel before November. Obama continues to be the odds-on favourite for expert political prognosticator Nate Silver as well as “put your money where your mouth is” speculation market Intrade. When the experts and the money both favour an incumbent candidate, it’s hard not to follow suit. *