The Obama campaign responded quickly and forcefully to charges made by two unnamed Romney aides to the Daily Telegraph in London that President Obama doesn’t understand the special relationship between the U.S. and Britain—and that Romney would restore the ties from the two countries’ shared Anglo-Saxon heritage.
Vice-President Biden said in a statement Wednesday “the comments reported this morning are a disturbing start to a trip designed to demonstrate Gov. Romney’s readiness to represent the United States on the world’s stage. Not surprisingly, this is just another feeble attempt by the Romney campaign to score political points at the expense of this critical partnership. This assertion is beneath a presidential campaign.”
Romney had promised he would not attack the president while on foreign soil, but his advisers apparently felt free to make some comments that could be interpreted as carrying a racial tinge. “Obama is a Left-Winger,” said one. “He doesn’t value the NATO alliance as much, he’s very comfortable with American decline and the traditional alliance don’t means as much to him. He wouldn’t like singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.” They said Romney is “naturally more Atlanticist,” and according to the news report, one suggested it may be because Obama’s father is from Africa.
The advisers pointed out that Obama had returned the bust of Winston Churchill which President George W. Bush had displayed in the Oval Office. They said Romney would reclaim it from Britain and reinstate it in the White House, calling it “symbolically important.” Obama enjoys a warm and comfortable relationship with British Prime Minister David Cameron, but there was some coolness between Obama and Gordon Brown, Cameron’s predecessor—but nothing on the scale that the Romney campaign appears to be insinuating.
Calls to several campaign consultants in both camps elicited mostly no comments. One said the remarks attributed to the Romney aides were “the type of thing that’s too stupid to say.” It’s an open secret that the Romney campaign and their allies are trying to frame Obama as somehow not wholeheartedly American enough to merit a second term. New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, a favorite Romney surrogate, apologized earlier this month after telling reporters in a conference call that Obama should “learn how to be an American,” referring to Obama’s views about capitalism.
William Galston with the Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning think tank, responded in an e-mail to what the Romney advisers reportedly said: “I don’t know about the racism (a term I wouldn’t throw around without lots of evidence), but at the very least it’s unseemly and distasteful. The Romney campaign should be above such tactics, and the candidate should repudiate them if they were used by individuals authorized to speak for him.”
Biden’s statement blasted Romney’s surrogates for “reportedly playing politics with international diplomacy, attempting to create daylight between the United States and the United Kingdom where none exists. Our special relationship with the British is stronger than ever and we are proud to work hand-in-hand with Prime Minister Cameron to confront every major national security challenge we face today. On every major issue—from Afghanistan to missile defense, from the fight against international terrorism to our success in isolating countries like Iran whose nuclear programs threaten peace and stability—we’ve never been more in sync.”
The contretemps came just as Romney is beginning a six-day trip to Europe, enjoying the Olympics in London and visiting Poland and Israel. He took his jabs at Obama stateside in a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, portraying Obama as weak and indecisive on foreign policy despite the fact that Obama enjoys a comfortable lead in the polls over his rival on stewardship of foreign affairs. Ed Goeas, a Republican pollster, says Obama is doing better than most Democrats have in the past on foreign policy, but it’s not a factor in people’s voting decision. “Romney will make a mistake if he focuses too much on it,” says Goeas. And if there is a crisis overseas, that traditionally helps the incumbent, but may not in Obama’s case. “Anything that takes Obama away from the economy could hurt him.”
The two campaigns jump on anything that might create a spark, but for all the money spent, and all the flash-point accusations and responses, “the race hasn’t moved an inch,” says Goeas. “It’s the basic undertide of the economy that’s pulling Obama down, not the [Romney] campaign, and [Obama] is having to run a more aggressive campaign just to tread water.”
The most telling question Goeas asks in his surveys: do you think Obama made the economy better, worse or no impact. Forty percent say better, and 91 percent of those people are voting Democratic; forty percent say he made it worse, and 91 percent of them are voting for Romney. Twenty percent say no impact, and Romney is up with them by 2 points. That’s the group Goeas has his eye on. He thinks the race will break like it did in 1980, with that group breaking late in the race toward one or the other candidate. He predicts “no daylight" between the contenders until then. "But you still have to run a campaign,” and that means more tit-for-tat, quotes taken out of context, and low-blow comments like the ones made by the Romney aides in London.