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Romney's Foreign Trip: Low Key and Light on Policy

Romney's Foreign Trip: Low Key and Light on Policy

By Scott Conroy - July 24, 2012


Four years ago, Sen. Barack Obama embarked on a heavily hyped trip abroad that took him through eight countries and two war zones -- and left no doubt about the heights to which his international renown had grown.

The grand tour was keynoted by a speech in Berlin in which the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was welcomed with rock star-level adoration by what was likely the largest crowd of the entire 2008 campaign.

The American media gave far more attention to Obama’s journey abroad than it typically devotes to similar excursions by sitting presidents, and the trip seemed designed as much to augment the aura surrounding the candidate as to bolster the foreign policy chops of a freshman senator running against a deeply experienced player on the international stage.

Obama’s high-profile swing appeared at first to achieve its goals, but John McCain’s campaign found a way to turn the spectacle on its head via a memorable ad titled “Celebrity.” That 30-second spot juxtaposed footage from the Berlin speech with images of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, underscoring the perception that there was little substance behind Obama’s international acclaim.

As Mitt Romney prepares to embark on his own international swing this week, the Republican’s campaign seems intent on avoiding even a hint of the pageantry surrounding Obama’s trip four years ago, signaling that the presumptive nominee’s version of a world tour will be far more scaled down.

"We don't anticipate that this is an opportunity for the governor to make any specific policy pronouncement," Romney’s policy director, Lanhee Chen, said in a conference call with reporters last week, adding modestly that the candidate sees the trip as an occasion to “learn and listen.”

Romney’s first stop on the six-day tour will be London, where he will attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics on Friday along with other events surrounding the Summer Games, followed by a slew of meetings with British government officials.

Romney has attended every Olympics since he helmed -- and organizationally rescued -- the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, and he is sure to highlight the international relationships he has developed through his longstanding ties to the quadrennial event.

While in the U.K., he also will host several private fundraisers for American donors living there, but he is not expected to deliver a major address.

Romney will next visit two other close American allies, Israel and Poland, and is slated to deliver speeches in each country, in addition to holding high-profile meetings with key leaders.

Though a Romney foreign policy adviser suggested that the candidate may have a surprise or two up his sleeve, he is unlikely to create a splash. Campaign aides have suggested that it will be fireworks-free in part because Romney subscribes to the longstanding tradition whereby American politicians refrain from criticizing a sitting president while on foreign soil.

But the understated nature of Romney’s overseas foray also reflects his style of campaigning -- which has been largely free of bells and whistles -- and his desire not to steer the media narrative too far from domestic economic woes, even for a week.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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