As I have spent the better part of a week commenting on some of the more intriguing aspects of Mitt Romney’s trip abroad (thank goodness it’s over so we can move on to other things!) readers have been emailing me asking “why Poland?”
There is never just one reason for any decision like this. Certainly, Poland’s place in the history of the end of the former Soviet Union allows him to remind people that an oppressive government can be overcome. (comparing “big government” in the US to the Soviets for example) Poland was also the birthplace of Pope John Paul II, and the site of one of his most important visits as Pope, which they feel may help him connect with Catholic voters.
To me, another answer is obvious, given the history of the candidate.
Mitt Romney also went to Poland because it has not yet joined the Eurozone.
Poland is an EU member nation, but has not yet moved its currency to the Euro. This is an important distinction and one that made going to Poland an easier decision for his advisors.
The biggest issue in Europe today is the state of the Euro, a result of the poor monetary policies and economic performance of certain member states. (not to mention certain economic structural issues with the Eurozone itself)
In the campaign’s mind, not being in the Eurozone means Mitt would likely not have to answer any questions about the state of the euro and then make mistakes like he has in the past. Big whoppers like let Detroit automakers go bankrupt and that the government should let banks foreclose on homeowners quicker, let investor’s buy the properties, rent them out, and let the housing market bottom out. The free market triumphs, regardless the damage done to families.
So, imagine, given that history, if someone had asked him about the troubled Eurozone, about Greece, Italy, or Spain and perhaps the survival of the Euro itself. They were trying to prevent the giant, foreign policy gaffe just before November.
Remember, these locations were all chosen to be easy.
- London, to remind voters of his success with the Salt Lake City Olympics
- Israel, to court the Jewish-American vote and to raise money
- Poland, to avoid any tricky of Euro questions and perhaps to gain some credibility amongst union workers in swing states thanks to an endorsement by Lech Wałęsa
Once the decisions were made, they set out to put together what Mitt would say in Poland and they chose to focus on Poland’s role in the end of the cold war and other such rhetorical fireworks.
Mitt teed it up in March by referring to Russia as “Foe #1″. The media reported this as an oddity, as if Romney had stepped back in time, but now we see that he was already setting up a theme. A theme that would eventually come full circle in Poland, with a fiery speech about the old evil empire, about the triumph of the free market over Communism, big cheering crowds, lots of great footage. Then hop on the plane, stop and take that presidential style wave, and fly home to hit the homestretch running.
Unfortunately for the campaign, the candidate started poorly out of the gate and they never recovered. By the time he got to Poland, his group was on edge and testy, leading to the loss of temper by Rick Gorka, advising reporters to honor a sacred Polish site by telling them to “kiss his ass”.
This is a classic sign of a campaign that had come unglued. And it did not have to end up that way, even after London.
Did Gorka break becasue of the press? Because of the way they jumped on Romney’s every word?
The campaign was at the breaking point because all the plans and carefully laid strategic groundwork that were to culminate with this big speech in Poland were overshadowed by the prior few days. The setup pieces carefully placed weeks and months ahead, like the odd Russia antagonism, were now not going to be all tied up neatly. Instead, it was all out there in small incoherent pieces, a reflection of the candidate’s inability to stay on message and of the campaign’s ability to control that message.
The campaign reacted slowly and erratically. Like amateurs.
It should be noted that in the US, Republicans were calling the trip a huge success and shrugged off the reports of the candidates poor showing as nothing more than small things overblown by the press.
Small things overblown by the press? London, maybe. Although I think his comments there showed poor judgement and even arrogance.
But his comments in Israel? Absolutely not overblown and perhaps even under-reported. And I find it telling that Republicans and the conservative media think what he said was OK. It most certainly was not. But what else could they say?
I am always baffled as to why it is thought to bolster someone’s “foreign policy credentials simply” by traveling to a foreign country and having a meeting with one of its political leaders. Photo ops do not give someone diplomatic experience. This whole assumption shows an incredible lack of respect for the intelligence of voters.
This time, it has come back to bite them. The question becomes, can they heal that bite before November?