Mitt Romney's big foreign trip is not going so well. His problem Thursday is that he told NBC News of the London Olympics, "You know, it's hard to know just how well it will turn out," adding, "There are a few things that were disconcerting." That's not a good way to start a visit. It's like Romney invited himself over, and the Brits play along hospitably, showing him a good time, letting him tour the place, and what does he do first thing? He calls their baby ugly. Actually, worse than ugly: He calls the London Olympic Games "disconcerting." That's like calling it a demon baby. Did he think they were just going to let that slide? If so, he thought wrong.
Romney was referring to problems with security and threats of a strike from immigration officials. Then he had the gall to suggest that maybe British people just aren't that into the Games. Romney said, "Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? And that's something which we only find out once the Games actually begin. It is hard to know just how well it will turn out." British papers put the comments on their front pages, Politico's Alexander Burns points out. British Prime Minister David Cameron told The Guardian that his country had overcome a lot to build the Games in tough economic times. "Look at this extraordinary Olympic Park, built from nothing in seven years," Cameron said. As for his countrymen's lack of enthusiasm, he continued, "We'll show the world we've not only come together as a United Kingdom but are extremely good at welcoming people from across the world." Then, most ominously, he said he would say it to Romney's face when they met Thursday.
Which he did! "We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world," Cameron said. "Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere." Oooooooh, in your face, Salt Lake City! (Population: a paltry 1.1 million.)
Romney tried to make amends. "Of course there will be errors from time to time, but those are all overshadowed by the extraordinary demonstrations of courage, character and determination by the athletes," he said at a press conference, Politico reports.
But that wasn't Romney's only trouble on a trip that just began Wednesday. The British newspaper The Telegraph reported that a member of Romney's foreign policy team told him that Obama didn't appreciate the "Anglo-Saxon heritage" the U.S. and U.K. share. In case you didn't get the implication, reporter Jon Swaine prefaced it by saying, "In remarks that may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity…" Swaine's colleague Tim Stanley followed up on the resulting outrage, saying, "Someone on the Romney staff needs to be sacked – fast and publicly." On Thursday, Swaine reported a Romney foreign policy staffer complaining that Cameron snubbed Republicans on his visit to the U.S. in March. "'It was unprecedented,' said one member of Mr Romney’s foreign policy advisory team. 'It wasn’t just one more visit with the same treatment. It was very different. So why now?'"
And while the British press is giving Romney a hard time, so are the Americans. NBC News' Chuck Todd writes that Romney only took answers from British reporters, no American ones. Sure, that sounds like reporters whining, he says, but every president chips away at norms of responding to the press. He says:
But folks, those of us that have traveled overseas and been involved in these VERY limited press avails have rarely seen heads of democracies TOTALLY ignore their own press corps but answer ANOTHER press corps’ questions. Sure, it would have looked REALLY bad had Romney ignored the U.K. questions. But is the campaign so intent on limiting media access that the candidate won’t call an audible when standing next to a leader from another country who DOES want to take questions?
Despite these struggles, Romney will have some souvenirs from the trip. His aide tweeted this Instagram-ish photo of Romney meeting with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
That's why people travel anyway, right? For the photos?
Update: Outside of 10 Downing Street, Romney told reporters he talked about Syrian and Iran with Cameron. And he sounded a little more humble on the Olympics, saying he made a few mistakes himself and praising the London organizing committee.
Update II: Romney told reporters he met with the head of MI6. Oops. "For our American readership," The Guardian's Tom McCarthy explains, "The British take on the national secret intelligence service comes with an extra-heavy dollop of the whole secret thing. The veryexistence of the MI6 was not officially acknowledged until 1994."
Meanwhile, the Telegraph's Alex Spillius writes, "Mitt Romney is perhaps the only politician who could start a trip that was supposed to be a charm offensive by being utterly devoid of charm and mildly offensive."