Republican US presidential candidate Mitt Romney upset Londoners, Palestinians and US journalists on his ill-fated tour abroad, but with voters focused on the economy at home, it is unclear whether his fumbles will have a lasting effect on the Nov. 6 election.
Romney is facing doubts about whether he can handle himself on the world stage as he tries to replace US President Barack Obama.
His blunt comments on the London Olympics, Israel’s culture and the status of Jerusalem showed an awkward tone and an inability to control his own message, a problem that could be magnified in the heat of the campaign’s next 100 days.
Yet US voters, especially in Rust Belt swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, care more about jobs than Jerusalem. It is not certain that Romney will pay at the ballot box for his fumbles.
“I don’t think this will have a lasting impact one way or the other,” said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. “It’s certainly not going to help his goal of burnishing his foreign policy credentials. I don’t think he did that, but I don’t think he hurt himself either.”
The trip ended on a sour note with the media on Tuesday when traveling Romney press secretary Rick Gorka angrily admonished reporters for shouting questions about his gaffes to Romney at a memorial to the late Pope John Paul II in Poland.
“Kiss my ass. This is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect,” Gorka said.
A saving grace for Romney may be that his sojourn took place during a summer down period with Americans more interested in their vacations and the Olympic Games than the presidential campaign.
As the US winds down its foreign wars and frets about its debt, deficit and high jobless number of more than 8 percent, voters are paying little attention to global matters.
Fewer than 10 percent of people surveyed in regular polls by Reuters/Ipsos over the last 21 months have named foreign affairs as the biggest problem facing the US.
The number fell to 5 percent in the last poll in April, compared with 46 percent who mentioned the economy.
Still, images like Romney being rebuked by British Prime Minister David Cameron for doubting London’s Olympic readiness, do not help the former Massachusetts governor convince Americans he is ready for the White House.
“It is clear that the opportunity to credential his beliefs with the American voters was nothing short for Mitt Romney of an embarrassing disaster on this trip. So, the notion somehow that this trip and its impacts don’t matter, I think is one of the craziest things that has been said along the course of this trip,” Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs said.
Romney has more of a need to be careful about voters’ perceptions of him than Obama does because Americans are still making their minds up about the Republican. Roughly one in five voters does not have an opinion yet about Romney.
“Romney has an opportunity to change views of him to a larger extent than does the president. There are a large number of people who are still not decided what they think about Romney. Virtually everybody has an opinion of what they think of the president,” said Peter Brown, of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
Romney’s advisers had debated whether he should leave the US at all at a critical moment of the campaign when he is running nearly even with Obama in polls by pounding a relentless message that the US economy under the Democratic incumbent has been a failure.