Mitt Romney came within a few hundred miles of his family’s roots on Thursday. But while other American politicians from John Kennedy to Bill Clinton have taken great pleasure in digging out long-lost Irish cousins, Romney showed no appetite for visiting the town in Lancashire from which his ancestor Miles Romney emigrated to the U.S. in the 1830s.
Perhaps he preferred to stay away because Miles, a carpenter from the parish of Penwortham, near the city of Preston, was the first Romney to embrace Mormonism. The Republicans’ likely candidate still seems reluctant to remind the electorate of his Mormon roots.
Or perhaps it was that the man who has acquired the nickname “Mittens” on this side of the Atlantic had more important things to do. On Thursday he had face time with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Cameron’s deputy Nick Clegg, and Ed Miliband, the opposition leader, along with former prime minister Tony Blair.
The real business of the day, however, had very little to do with British politics and far more to do with pouring more cash into Romney’s overflowing coffers. At a fundraising dinner on Thursday night, a place at a table cost $75,000 a head, which puts London’s notoriously costly restaurants in perspective. Just shaking hands with Romney came with a $2,500 price tag.
Bob Diamond, the former American head of Barclays, who was recently defenestrated, apparently on direct orders from the Bank of England after the emergence of the Libor scandal, was supposed to co-host the event. But after his firing, Diamond bowed out, and Romney expertly brushed away any embarrassment this may have caused and made a beeline for London’s moneybags. Despite all the scandals, London is still a city that’s vying to be known as the world financial capital, so the evening could hardly have gone wrong.
For a potential president, however, the day could have gone more sweetly. One British reporter who tailed him through the day said he was “somewhat robotic—not particularly presidential.” The impression was confirmed when he made the odd error of addressing Miliband as “Mr. Leader.”
He also demonstrated diplomatic clumsiness in his handling of the Olympics, an area in which he is considered something of an expert after his successful staging of the Winter Games in Salt Lake City. On Thursday morning he seemed to express reservations about the way London is running the Games, the opening ceremony of which he will attend on July 28: “It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out,” he told NBC, referring to the mess organizers have got in after a private security company flunked its promise to recruit thousands of fully vetted staff.
After seeing Cameron, however, he struck a more diplomatic note, saying, “It is impossible for absolutely no mistakes to occur. Of course there will be errors from time to time, but these will be overshadowed by the extraordinary demonstrations of courage, character and determination by the athletes.”
Romney also showed diplomatic sense when he declined to play the Anglo-Saxon card earlier brandished by one of his aides. Speaking to the right-wing Daily Telegraph in advance of the visit, an unnamed adviser said, “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and [Romney] feels that the special relationship is special.”
The comment was seen by some as a crude way of pointing up President Obama’s African roots. It also provoked widespread mirth on social media sites. The remark “is totally going to lose him the Norman, Druid, Jute and Saracen vote,” one wit commented.