It started badly and quickly went from bad to worse. Even before he touched down in London last Wednesday, his campaign had raised eyebrows when an advisor said that Barack Obama was unable to understand the “common Anglo-Saxon heritage” of the US and the UK. Given that in English this term only refers to the Germanic tribes of Southwest England (unlike the "free-market capitalism" meaning it has in France), it came off as shockingly racist – i.e., a black man cannot understand the common Germanic heritage of the English and their descendants.
Romney then managed to enrage the British public by casting doubt on their readiness to host the Olympic Games, telling a US journalist in London that the UK’s preparedness was “not encouraging.” This sent the British media into a frenzy of anti-Romney headlines, such as “Mitt the Twit” (The Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch) and “Who invited Party-Pooper Romney?” (The ultra-conservative Daily Mail). He even managed to enrage Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron, who quipped at a press conference, "Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere." (Romney ran the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah). Even London mayor Boris Johnson, himself a gaffe-magnet, used Mitt Romney’s name when speaking to crowds asif describing some kind of panto villain, quickly followed with boos from assembled Olympics-lovers.
Romney also appeared to forget the name of opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband when they spoke, calling him “Mr. Leader”. He also told the press that he had met with M16, Britain’s equivalent of the CIA, even though the meeting was supposed to be confidential.
For a trip that was ostensibly supposed to be about repairing America’s relations with a “neglected” ally (the Romney camp says the Obama administration is not interested in close ties with Britain), leaving the country having enraged the nations media, forgotten the opposition leader and being castigated by the two main Conservative leaders was probably not the best result.
The chosen people
Romney then travelled to Israel, where he made his first gaffe with a rather awkwardly over-the-top speech praising the country’s socialised healthcare system, marvelling at how much lower costs are than in the US. It was almost painfully hypocritcal, given his criticism of the very similar ‘Obamacare’ (which itself was modelled on the 'Romneycare' he enacted in Massachusetts).
But all of that was overshadowed by his almost unbelievable statements at a private fundraising event with billionaire American Jews in Tel Aviv, where he suggested that Israelis are so much wealthier than the Arabs in the Palestinian territories because they have a superior culture.
"As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality," he told the audience. "And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”The idea that people living under a military occupation, where they are separated from any advanced form of commerce by walls and border checks, are economically less well-off than their neighbours because they come from a less-industrious culture is, frankly, obscene. What’s more, Romney’s numbers are grossly inaccurate. The per-capita GDP of Israel is actually $31,000, while the per-capita GDP in the Palestinian territories is $1,500. As The Economist notes this week,
“Those aren't the kinds of numbers that divide industrious Protestants from happy-go-lucky Catholics. They're the kind of numbers that divide South Korea from Ghana. You don't get those kinds of divisions because of cultural differences. The reason most Palestinians have low third-world income levels is that they are born into impoverished towns or refugee camps inside the gerrymandered Bantustans of the Palestinian Authority, where border crossings are controlled by Israeli military authorities, water sources are tapped to feed Jewish settlements, Israeli-built infrastructure bypasses them, the education system is funded by paltry international contributions and paltrier taxes…Comparing the income of the average Israeli to that of the average Palestinian, as though their prospects at birth had been equivalent and their fortunes today are largely the result of their own efforts and their "culture", is gratuitously insulting and wreaks damage to American diplomacy.”The reaction from Palestinian leaders was predictably incredulous, but it wasn’t only Arabs who were shocked and offended by Romney’s statements. European diplomats denounced the comments, and China said Romney’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel “totally neglects historical facts and are actually irresponsible if he just meant to appeal to voters at home.”
Romney himself managed to stay incident-free during his next stop in Poland, but his campaign staff didn’t. As Romney left a visit to a Polish memorial honouring the 1980’s solidarity movement against communism, the frustrated travelling press corps, which had been denied any access to Romney during the entire trip except for three questions outside Number 10 Downing Street in London, began shouting questions out to him about his numerous international gaffes. Romney’s press officer came over to the journalists and told them, “kiss my ass”. His profanity-laced tirade was followed by the bizarre admonishment: “show some respect, this is a holy place”.
Effect at home
The ‘calls it like he sees it’ explanation for these gaffes isn’t likely to fly, not only because of Romney’s personality (which is demonstrably the opposite) but also because the Olympics comments were so recklessly pointless. Instead, as Politico points out, the gaffes are likely to feed into a growing impression that Romney doesn’t have it together. “For voters just now engaging in the race, [the gaffes] offer more examples about an ill-at-ease man who says odd or inappropriate things."