Friday, 27 July 2012

Romney misses a tap-in

US Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney kicked off his world tour on the eve of the opening ceremony first by openly questioning whether London was ready to host the Olympic Games, then forgetting Ed Milliband's name and following through with a protocol error by referring to him as "mister leader" which is neither his name nor his title, before blabbing about his secret security briefing with the head of the UK intelligence agency, MI6. And it's only Day One. Slow hand clap for Mr Romney.

The Olympics cock-up was particularly foolish because the rules for this one are so simple: when a major international sporting event is about to begin, national leaders must always, as a bare minimum, say something optimistic and bland. You can go optimistic and visionary, optimistic and inspiring, or optimistic and go-getting if you like, but optimism is the basic ingredient in any recipe because it's not about you and you shouldn't overshadow the competitors.

Presidents and Prime Minsters are often called on to make nuanced comments on controversial topics in which they must speak to several different interest groups at the same time. On foreign trips, as a bare minimum, you're talking to both your home country and your host which can create tensions, but this was not one of those times. Even if you think a problem is likely, there are no prizes for saying so. "I have no doubt that will be a great success, and I hope everyone has a wonderful time," is the correct answer. As a bonus, Mr Romney had a nice opportunity to highlight his own experience with the Salt Lake City winter games with a follow up comment on how successful that was. Lots of back-patting all round.

In international diplomacy terms, this is a tap-in. It's hard to think of an easier situation. Yet Romney contrived to slice the ball wildly into the grandstand, leaving his team with a messy but avoidable clean-up and drowning coverage of his visit in a deluge of negative press.

If his plan was to tour the world looking like a President-in-waiting, he's going to need a plan B.

As an aside, Mr Cameron's angry response in which he implied that Salt Lake City is "the middle of nowhere" was also unwise and for the same reason: insulting people in Salt Lake City and those involved with those Olympic Games is unnecessary and bound to backfire. It's not their fault that Mr Romney made a daft comment. Better to smile graciously, thank him for his advice and leave people to form their own view about Mr Romney's good grace.

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