Romney Stumbles in London

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U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney at 10 Downing Street in London, where he met British Prime Minister David Cameron

Mitt Romney’s foreign trip is not going well. Since arriving in London, Romney has been tripped up by a series of niggling skirmishes. Taken together, they have sidetracked media coverage of a sojourn intended to showcase Romney’s statesmanship. 

The trouble began before Romney’s arrival, with an anonymous quote in the conservative Daily Telegraph. The White House, a Romney “adviser” suggested, didn’t appreciate the shared “Anglo-Saxon heritage” of the U.S. and U.K. It is unfair to hold Romney accountable for a blind quote uttered by someone who could be far outside his orbit, and his campaign disavowed the sentiment. Still, not a strong start.

The former Massachusetts governor, whose stint at the helm of the Salt Lake City Olympics is a central part of his case for the presidency, compounded the problem by suggesting on the eve of the London Games that the city’s preparation may not have met his standards. There were “disconcerting” signs, Romney said during an interview with NBC, before questioning the capital’s ability to “come together and celebrate the Olympic moment.” The jab, which was splattered across the A1 page of London dailies on Thursday, left British officials “speechless,” according to the Guardian.

“Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere,” huffed British Prime Minister David Cameron. London mayor Boris Johnson used Romney’s comment, which the presumptive Republican nominee later walked back, as a rallying cry at a massive public event in Hyde Park on Thursday. “Can this get any worse for Romney?” tweeted the political editor of the conservative Daily Mail. Both Cameron and Johnson are Conservatives, a sign that the U.S. pol’s blunders had transcended ideology. Meanwhile, Romney referred to British Labour leader Ed Miliband as “Mr. Leader,” an appellation some British outlets took as a sign that he had blanked on Miliband’s name.

Those weren’t Romney’s only goofs. The candidate divulged to reporters a confab he had held with the chief of the British intelligence service MI6 — information the agency apparently would have preferred to keep quiet. And while he said too much to the press, Romney also drew criticism for saying too little. His refusal to take questions from the domestic pool that trailed him to London prompted an angry missive from NBC.

Romney has tried to distance himself from the dressage competition that Democrats have sought to make a symbol of his wealth. But his dodge on the topic — “I have to tell you. This is Ann’s sport. I’m not even sure which day the sport goes on” — prompted one influential blogger, Andrew Sullivan, to argue that Romney’s comment was “either a fib, designed to insulate him from whatever minimal fallout there is from owning a dressage horse; or it’s true and he’s just unlike other human beings.”

The pounding continued on Thursday when reporters excavated a passage from his book No Apology that includes some unflattering remarks about the U.S.’s chief European ally. “England is just a small island,” he wrote. “Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn’t make things that the rest of the world wants to buy. And if it hadn’t been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler’s ambitions.” (The context of the quote is a rumination on why nations rise and fall.)

At home, these flaps would quickly disappear into the maw of the news cycle. The standard is different on foreign soil. Romney’s blunders have undercut the entire purpose of the trip, which was to prove he could adequately represent U.S. interests with international leaders despite his scant foreign policy experience. He hasn’t met that standard so far. Even Drudge has turned against him.

(PHOTOS: The Rich History of Mitt Romney)