Romney Stumbles in London, but Will It Matter?

Romney Stumbles in London, but Will It Matter?

By Erin McPike - July 27, 2012

For months, Londoners' readiness to handle the crowds and ensure security at the Olympics -- all while maintaining their enthusiasm for the grand international sports spectacle -- has been a big question in the run-up to the Summer Games. But when Mitt Romney gave voice to those doubts on the eve of Friday's opening ceremonies, he suddenly made himself the story. And not in a good way.

In an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, the Republican presidential nominee was asked his view of British preparedness. “There are a few things that were disconcerting, the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials -- that obviously is not something which is encouraging,” he replied. “Because in the games there are three parts that makes games successful.

“Number one, of course, are the athletes. That's what overwhelmingly the games are about. Number two are the volunteers. And they'll have great volunteers here. But number three are the people of the country. Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? And that's something which we only find out once the games actually begin.”

This skepticism did not go over well with his hosts, who found it ungracious, not to mention gratuitous. And they responded in kind. None other than British Prime Minister David Cameron fired back at the hero of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world,” Cameron said testily. “Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”

On Friday morning, Romney awoke to the headlines in the famously unrestrained British tabloids: “Mitt the Twit,” blared one. “Who Invited Party-Pooper Romney?” asked another. In an attempt at damage control, he ventured back before the cameras of NBC -- the network covering the Olympics -- to make amends.

“After being here a couple of days, it looks to me like London is ready,” he said on NBC’s “Today” show. “Of course it is hard to put on games in a major metropolitan area,” he added, in a concession to Cameron’s dig. “What they have done that I find so impressive is they took the venues and put them right in the city.”

And in a remark that few viewers on either side of the Atlantic would dispute, Romney also said: “In just a few moments all the things politicians say will get swept away because the athletes will take the stage.”

But back in the States, Democrats pounced, blasting out several versions of documents taunting Romney for getting a spate of bad headlines on the first stop of his European tour. The Democratic National Committee released a web video Friday morning that drew together footage from Thursday’s network newscasts in the United States drawing attention to Romney’s uncertain foray into international diplomacy. Included is a clip of London Mayor Boris Johnson telling a crowd outside the Olympic park: “There are some people coming from around the world who don’t yet know all the preparations we’ve done to get London ready in the last seven years. There’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we’re ready.”

Although Romney endured a tough day of press coverage, the only London residents who can vote in U.S. elections are American ex-pats, and it seems unlikely that his rather innocuous comments would alienate many voters back home.

Nonetheless, some stateside Republicans felt compelled to come to his defense. “I hope the London Olympics go off without a hitch,” tweeted conservative writer Jim Geraghty. “But the idea that Romney said anything controversial or undiplomatic is just flat wrong.”

It’s a matter of conjecture whether what Romney said will bother Americans one way or the other. Most probably will not care, while a few might think it reflects poorly on his ability to represent the United States on the world stage. But in an election that is shaping up to be very close, every little bit has the potential to help -- or hurt. Mostly, this unforced error may represent a lost opportunity: it diverted attention from Romney’s chance to spotlight his own experience successfully running the games a decade ago, while reinforcing President Obama’s reputation as a guy who makes a good impression on the locals when he travels abroad.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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