It’s not as bad as the British press is making it out to be (big surprise, huh?), but Mitt Romney made a definite diplomatic faux pas when he seemed to give voice to thoughts that might have better been kept to himself.
About British preparations for the Olympics, Romney said:
“It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out,” he said. “There are a few things that were disconcerting: the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging.”
G4S, a private security company, provided thousands fewer staff than were expected, forcing the armed forces to fill the gap. British immigration officers had threatened to go on strike during the Olympics, but this ultimatum was called off on Wednesday. The Government insists that all preparations have been made and the event will be a success.
Nonetheless, Mr Romney questioned the enthusiasm of the British public. “Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment?” he asked. “That’s something which we only find out once the Games actually begin.”
However, the presidential challenger later back-tracked on the comments at a press conference on Thursday morning.
“The weather could not be better. Fortunately the sunshine is out and the warmth is here,” he said. “I know the spirit and the people of this community will welcome the athletes of the world.”
“Who Invited Him?” said a Daily Mail headline. The rest of the tabloid press expressed varying degrees of disdain toward Romney — as did Prime Minister David Cameron who took a jab at Romney’s stewardship of the Utah games in 2002:
We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere, Cameron said.
Romney deftly walked the comment back when he said after his meeting with Cameron:
I’m very delighted with the prospects of a highly successful Olympic Games. What I see shows imagination and forethought and a lot of organization and expect the Games to be highly successful,” Romney said.
Romney’s observations were correct, although using the word “disconcerting” to describe preparations and then questioning the unity of the English people were probably thoughts that should have remained private. He was repeating criticisms that have echoed throughout the country so it’s not like he was making false accusations. But the Labor Party has been using the mistakes in preparing for the Olympics as a political attack on Cameron and for Romney to repeat those charges is considered bad form.
A rookie mistake? Romney has never been abroad as a candidate for president when, like the president, every word is weighed and analyzed for meaning beyond what is spoken. He recovered gracefully so there will be no lasting damage.
Let’s hope the experience was an object lesson in choosing one’s words with greater care.