Romney gaffes won't affect vote: Analyst

2012-08-02 16:56


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Washington - Republican challenger Mitt Romney's diplomatic stumbles on an overseas tour — a journey designed to polish his foreign policy credentials — are unlikely to have done much damage to his campaign to deny President Barack Obama a second term.

There are at least two reasons.

First, Romney's remarks in London and Israel and his press spokesperson's explosion of invective in Warsaw directed at reporters travelling with the former Massachusetts governor will most likely be seen as positives by the candidate's backers.

Tough talk in support of Israel in particular is music to the ears his conservative base.

Second, voters are overwhelmingly concerned about their economic well-being and the struggling US recovery from the Great Recession, not American foreign policy.

"Since the Vietnam War, there's just such scant evidence for foreign policy affecting elections that Romney's performance probably won't matter," said Jeffrey Martinson, a political scientist at Meredith College.

Diplomatic failure

"In terms of political psychology, most voters don't have a sense of how to measure or understand the nuances of foreign policy."

By pure measures of diplomatic success, Romney performed poorly on his travels to Britain, Israel and Poland.

In Britain, he was critical of the country's preparations for the London Olympic Games and drew withering retorts from the British press, the Conservative prime minister and London's right-wing mayor.

In Israel, he said Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state, a declaration that US administrations have refused to accept given the decades-long insistence by Palestinians that the ancient city is their capital.

Beyond that, a top Romney adviser suggested that Romney, if elected, would give the green light to a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

And in a speech to a gathering of mostly American Jewish donors, Romney implied that Israel was more advanced than the Palestinians because of cultural superiority.

Occupation ignored

That comment combined with his recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and his stated readiness to move the American embassy there from Tel Aviv raised a furore among Palestinians.

"Yesterday, he destroyed negotiations by saying Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and today he is saying Israeli culture is more advanced than Palestinian culture," fumed top Palestinian official Saeb Erekat on Tuesday. "Isn't this racism?"

Romney ignored that Israel has actively occupied Palestinian territories, imposing severe restrictions on economic activity and the movement of the Arab population in the West Bank.

Israel maintains an economic blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, after pulling forces out of the impoverished Mediterranean territory in 2005.

"These kinds of things leave Democrats with so much material to use against Romney that it will be hard for them to sort it all out," said Natalie Davis, professor of political science at Birmingham-Southern College.

"While Romney's behaviour might look bad to the intelligentsia in both parties, it doesn't really matter to the average voter. And what he says has a populist foreign policy feel to it that appeals to the conservative base."

A Republican dream

Romney, with American casino magnate and billionaire Sheldon Adelson at his elbow during the fundraiser at Jerusalem's luxury King David Hotel, was clearly playing to the US Jewish and evangelical Christian vote. Adelson has pledged $100m to the Romney cause and is a devoted backer of Israel.

In Warsaw, Romney made a pitch for the US Polish and Catholic vote, hailing Poland's economy as something akin to a Republican dream: A place of small government, individual empowerment and free enterprise.

While it's true that Poland is one of Europe's fastest-growing economies and boasts dynamic entrepreneurs, Romney's depiction of Poland as a place of small government is debatable.

Even 23 years after throwing off a communist command economy, the Polish government continues to have a strong presence in people's lives: It gives women $300 for each baby they have, doubling that sum for poor families; it fully funds state university educations; and it guarantees healthcare to all its 38 million citizens.

And while Poland's economic growth has been impressive in recent years, that is partly the result of economic redistribution in the form of subsidies flowing in from the European Union since it joined the bloc in 2004.

Perhaps most notable was Romney spokesperson Rick Gorka after the candidate ignored shouted questions from reporters about his comments on Israel and the Palestinians. Asked why Romney has taken just three questions from American reporters during this trip, travelling press secretary Gorka said, "Shove it."

Obama supporters, foreign policy experts and even some powerful conservative commentators voiced incredulity over Romney's bumbling and many compared it unfavourably with the president's eight-country foreign tour when he was a candidate in 2008.

But that's likely to only solidify Republican base voters, who want a tough-talking leader who promotes US dominance abroad — the concept of American exceptionalism — without carry too much about ruffling diplomatic feathers.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  mitt romney  |  us  |  us elections 2012

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