British press pounces on Romney

5:39 PM, Jul 27, 2012   |    comments
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"Mitt the twit," screams the Sun headline, "Who invited Party Pooper Romney?" asked the Daily Mail. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is being hit by tough British headlines after a series of comments during his Olympic trip to London. In one blunder, he told reporters he met with British intelligence officials, which is apparently not something on which you're supposed to inform the public.

But an interview conducted by NBC's Brian Williams brought the most backlash. When asked if London was ready for the games, Romney said, "It's hard to know just how well it will turn out. There are a few things that were disconcerting; the story about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that's obviously not something which is encouraging."

Romney was speaking from a position of authority, having turned around the struggling winter games in 2002. And he didn't bring up anything that wasn't extensively covered in the media previously. London security had to be bolstered by a last-minute influx of British troops. Prime Minister David Cameron defended his country:

"Look, we are holding the Olympic games in one of the busiest, active, most bustling cities anywhere in the world," Cameron said. "Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic games in the middle of nowhere."

That was an obvious reference to Salt Lake City, Utah, the site of the 2002 games. It prompted another paper to call Romney "Nowhere Man," a reference to the Cameron line and an old Beatles song.

"During the 1996 Olympics, when the head of the Olympic committee said something that was perceived as being derogatory there was a very strong reaction in Atlanta," remembered Georgia State University Political Science professor Daniel Franklin. "It's about home town pride."

Franklin said it's also about politics, and Cameron can't be seen as a whipping boy for an American Presidential candidate. Romney later clarified, saying the athletes will soon rightly shift the attention from politicians to the competition.

President Obama's team is still in damage control over an unscripted moment he had during an earlier campaign stop. Speaking on small businesses and their support from the federal government, he told supporters, "Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you have a business, you didn't build that, somebody else made that happen."

Many media outlets pounced on the "You didn't build that" comment, and the president released several clarifications and even an advertisement in response. Franklin said the coverage of such "gaffes" is a fair and important part of the process.

"I think unscripted moments tell us a lot about who the candidate really is," Franklin said. And I don't think it's unfair for the press to look for those moments, because those are the moments that give us the most information."

As for whether or not Romney's comments will hurt his presidential chances? Franklin said most voters have already made up their minds on how they will vote. Democrats will deride Romney as hapless, while Republicans will say it shows strength to speak truth to other countries. Franklin said of those who are still undecided, most haven't yet started paying attention.

"For the undecided voters who are paying attention, the vast majority of them are either republican leaners or democratic leaners," Franklin said. "And this starts to build a picture for them like a jigsaw puzzle of who the candidate is."

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