Mitt Romney and his campaign team created an opportunity to demonstrate the presidential candidate’s international chops this week. A well-timed trip to London, then Israel, and then Poland, was planned to give Romney an international stage 100 days before the election. But when he arrived in London, he forgot one of the Golden Rules: ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all.’ His criticism of the country in which he had just landed created a bit of a PR problem.
To be sure, these trips are part of a well-executed public relations effort. This isn’t to minimize the importance of such visits for a candidate, nor does it belittle public relations as a way to create, reinforce or change attitudes. But we can understand that international travel is a proven recipe in the pressure cooker that is a presidential campaign. When mistakes are made, they can be costly.
“On a trip intended to prove that Romney was capable of appearing presidential overseas,” wrote Alon Harish of ABC News, “the former Massachusetts governor made himself the target of hostile British headlines and rebukes by the British prime minister after he publicly questioned (during an NBC interview) organizers’ preparedness for the 2012 Olympics.” Harish went on to observe, “In a sign that the campaign may be anxious about the risk of another gaffe, a campaign spokesman announced…that (a) fundraiser, which will be attended by some of Romney’s biggest bankrollers…will be off limits to the press. With that move, the campaign reneged on a commitment it made in April to allow a pool of reporters to cover all Romney fundraisers held in public venues.”
In an effort to be more cautious, Mr. Romney’s team may have made an uncomfortable situation worse. Closing the doors to the public might easily be interpreted as a statement of uncertainty, an image that a candidate certainly hopes to avoid. But the London gaffe served to magnify a campaign truism: Candidates must be so careful about every word they utter, every venue in which they appear, and every move they make during a campaign. It’s not an easy task. Your thoughts?