Mitt Romney’s Charmless British Gaffe Offensive

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 26, 2012 – 9:50 PM

In an effort to boost his foreign policy experience, presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney embarked on a week-long, three-country tour yesterday that will take him to England, Israel and Poland.

Based on his performance in England, I’m hoping he doesn’t attempt Jewish and Polish jokes during his next two stops.

Governor Romney began his tour of England by sitting down with NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. When asked a softball question, Mr. Romney gave an answer that didn’t exactly demonstrate his international savior-faire:

NBC Anchor Brian Williams: “In the short time you’ve been in London, do they look ready to your experienced eye?”

Governor Mitt Romney: “You know, it’s hard to know just how well it will turn out. There are a few things that were disconcerting, the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging. Because in the games, there are three parts that makes games successful….but number three are the people of the country. Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? And that’s something which we only find out once the games actually begin.”


Those comments caused a bit of an international incident. British Prime Minister David Cameron—a conservative—retorted by pointedly knocking Mr. Romney’s experience as the head of the Salt Lake City Olympics:

"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."


And London Mayor Boris Johnson told a group of 60,000 people in Hyde Park that:

“There are some people coming from around the world who don’t yet know if we are ready. There’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we are ready. Are we ready?”  (crowd screams “yes!”)


David Cameron and Mitt Romney's Awkward Meeting. Photo AP Charles Dharapk

And that one gaffe wasn’t the only one. According to The Guardian, Mr. Romney said that he had been "looking out of the backside of 10 Downing Street" (regarded in England as looking out the “ass” of 10 Downing Street), and called the head of the British opposition party by the wrong title.

Even worse, I couldn’t help cringing during tonight’s NBC Nightly News, in which Mr. Romney said (in an interview taped yesterday):

“We’re at a point here where we have two different roads we can go down. One leads to Europe. The other leads to the kind of dynamism and prosperity, which has always characterized America.”


That may seem rather tame, but remember: He made those comments while in Europe, trying to charm Europe. That’s kind of like charming your first date by telling her she might want to rethink the burger and order a salad instead. 

Gov. Romney may be right on the facts. But being an accurate truth-spouter isn’t the purpose of his overseas trip. His goal was to earn headlines as someone capable of being a strong international leader and to demonstrate that he understands at least the basic precepts of diplomacy. He isn’t succeeding, and worse, may have turned this trip into a net negative.

As a media trainer, the surprising thing to me is his gracelessness. He could have made all of the same points without offending anyone simply by calibrating his language more carefully. Is London ready? “Well, there have been troubling reports, but England is a great and proud country and I’m confident they’ll pull it off.”

Despite Mr. Romney’s lousy introduction to one of America’s most reliable allies, his gaffes may be erased by the calendar. When the Opening Ceremony takes place tomorrow, most Americans’ attention will shift from politics to sports. And his gaffes will be largely forgotten after he names his running mate, stars in the Republican convention, and participates in three presidential debates.

But just to be safe, perhaps Mr. Romney should simply nod and smile in Israel and Poland instead of pontificating near microphones?

What do you think? Do these gaffes matter, or are they much ado about nothing? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Comments (8)

  1. By Forgetful Man:

    I’m so glad you commented on this. The gaffes don’t matter beyond what they are – gaffes. As a media manager this is not something you want because the story now is the gaffe, not what was presumably the point of the trip: to build international credibility in the eyes of voters back home.

  2. By Emma Chambers:

    This trip was to show off Romney’s diplomatic chops. If he can’t answer a softball successfully, how will he handle the serious situations the world faces? However, I believe he answered the question honestly. He forgot that everything’s on record when you’re running for POTUS.

  3. By Anthony Palmer:

    Excellent analysis, Mr. Phillips. The Romney campaign let the gaffes overtake their desired narrative. However, I believe the far more damaging quote from Romney came from his response to whether he would watch his wife’s horse compete in the Olympics. He said he didn’t know much about the sport, didn’t know the rules, didn’t know when the horse would compete, and said he wouldn’t even watch it! Any parent knows when their child’s Little League game is. But Romney doesn’t know when his own wife’s horse is competing in the Olympic Games? And he doesn’t seem to care? Are you serious, Mr. Romney?! That’s not going to do much to improve his personal likability numbers.

  4. By Brad Phillips:


    Terrific comment – thank you for posting it. I agree completely with your point, and would never even consider dismissing one of my wife’s passions with such casual indifference.

    Gov. Romney is suffering from a Hillary Clinton problem – he’s allegedly warm in person, but he’s not letting it come through when cameras are present. He has three months to fix the problem, or he may be in real trouble this November.

    Thanks for reading and commenting,

  5. By Kevin Watterson:

    Let’s see…crops burning up in the midwest, THE ECONOMY…yeah, I think people are really focusing in on what Mitt Romney says about the Olympics.

    Also note that we are ripping into him for answering a question honestly. A good reminder the next time we get all holier-than-thou about politicians telling us what we want o hear.

  6. By Brad Phillips:


    You raise a fair point. And it actually relates to another point I’ve made in the past: that the true media bias isn’t as much ideological as it is based on cheap, easy, and visual. The Romney story is easy – and arguably even newsworthy – but not particularly “important.” More about my take on media bias is here:

    Thank you for commenting,

  7. By Tariq Ali:

    With references to the games being held in England in the article above this could also be seen to be a bit of a gaffe. Especially as there are events being held in the rest of the United Kingdom (ie here in Glasgow, Scotland).

  8. By Brad Phillips:


    The Games were awarded to London. That makes England the host country. In almost every Olympics, there are individual events held outside the host city. That doesn’t mean it’s inaccurate to refer to the host city as the location of the Games.

    Thanks for reading and enjoy the games,

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