Mitt Romney's London gaffes: 5 ways they hurt him

The first stop on Romney's foreign trip has been marred by a series of missteps and rookie mistakes. How damaging will they be?

(Image credit: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney hoped to kick off his trip overseas "on a high note," says Maeve Reston in the Los Angeles Times, with a friendly visit to America's British allies. Instead, a series of missteps have earned him derision in the British press. First, an anonymous Romney aide told the Telegraph that President Obama doesn't appreciate the shared "Anglo-Saxon heritage" of the U.S. and the U.K., a charge Romney quickly disavowed. Next, Romney questioned whether London was up to hosting the Olympics, triggering prickly pushback from Prime Minister David Cameron. Among other stumbles: Romney called Ed Miliband, head of the opposition Labor party, "Mr. Leader," suggesting that he had forgotten Miliband's name; he publicly acknowledged meeting with the head of Britain's super-secret MI6 intelligence service — a real no-no; and, for good measure, he talked of "looking out of the backside of 10 Downing Street" — prompting reporters to inform him that, "in Britain, 'backside' means 'ass.'" Did Romney's gaffes, large and small, hurt his campaign? Here, five reasons they might have:

1. Romney is giving Obama ammunition to highlight his lack of foreign experience

The purpose of Romney's "first diplomatic outing" was to show that he could handle himself on the world stage, say Nicholas Watt, Hélène Mulholland, and Owen Gibson in Britain's Guardian. By insulting his hosts on the eve of the Olympics, Romney "handed Barack Obama a potential gift." And Democrats wasted no time exploiting it, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying that it's embarrassing for the U.S. "to have somebody that's nominated by one of the principal parties to go over and insult everybody."

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2. Romney made allies mad at him

"There is a fantastic, hilarious, thigh-slapping irony" in the fact that Romney's trip was supposed to reaffirm America's traditional friendship with stalwart allies, says Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast, and it has "turned into a riotously public demonstration of the complete opposite." Instead of a "meeting of conservative minds between Cameron and Romney," the two traded insults. Romney, promising to return a bust of Winston Churchill to the Oval Office, wanted to show he'd be a better friend to Britain than Obama is. Instead, he wound up getting London's conservative mayor, Boris Johnson, "sneering at 'a guy called Mitt Romney' at an Olympics rally," says Allahpundit at Hot Air. "Good lord."

3. The blunders call attention to anti-British things Romney said in the past

This isn't the first time that Romney has "said some not-so-flattering things about the Sceptered Isle," says Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy. In his book, No Apology, Romney wrote that "England [sic] is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn't make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy."

4. This blunts GOP complaints that Obama apologizes too much abroad

Conservatives love to slam Obama for what they call his "constant apologizing" to world leaders, says Ed Kilgore at Washington Monthly. Well, in the first 24 hours of a supposedly low-profile goodwill tour, Romney has spent a disproportionate amount of time doing damage control. Who's the apologizer-in-chief, now?

5. Romney's overseas debut looks terrible compared to Obama's '08 tour

Every foreign trip is "fraught with danger" for a prospective president, says Jonathan Capehart at The Washington Post. The world of diplomacy is booby-trapped, and one ill-chosen word can leave you "diminished on the world stage," as Romney is learning. Obama faced the same danger in 2008 when, as a first-term senator aiming for the White House, he managed "perfect pitch" when speaking to the press and foreign leaders in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, and in Jordan, Israel, France, Britain, and Germany, where he made "an astounding speech before 200,000 in Berlin." So far, Romney is falling well short, but he "still has visits to Israel and Poland to get it right."

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

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