MITT Romney’s overseas schedule this week is not just about creating the optics of a statesman. In Britain, Poland and Israel, the Republican presidential nominee will seek to showcase what he says is the damage caused by Barack Obama to America’s principles and three of her most important strategic allies.
As a marked contrast to the last occasion a President sought re-election, foreign affairs and national security have largely taken a peripheral role in 2012. Just 3 per cent of voters cite foreign affairs as the “most important” matter facing the nation. But Romney’s visit certainly has a domestic play. Obama’s uneasy relationship with Israel, culminating in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lecturing the President in the White House, has been partly attributed to the loss of a Democratic Congressional seat in New York and plummeting support amongst Jewish voters. Few are predicting a massive shift of Jewish voters to the Republican Party. But only a small one might be needed.
After growing much closer to the US under the Bush administration, the Poles feel largely abandoned by Obama over the cancellation of a US missile defence shield in Eastern Europe. The President dubbing Auschwitz “a Polish death camp” did little to close the diplomatic fissure. The US-Polish alliance endears itself to the American sense of fair play – a support for the underdog, perennially harassed by the Russian bear. One Republican political operative noted how “ever since Nixon lost to Kennedy, we have been looking to find a way to mobilise the millions of Polish-Americans as an electoral asset. The fact that a lot of them are faith voters and based in battleground states makes this an important visit for Romney.” A domestic Polish play? It looks likely.
Whereas Britain certainly feels a little burned by Obama, Romney’s visit to London is just as much about raising campaign funds at two events this evening as it is about assuaging the concerns of an ally. Both the President and Romney have brought in approximately $5m (£3.2m) from Americans overseas and, with the Obama campaign spending $12m more than it took in last month, fundraising will only become more aggressive. In addition, with London being the site for the Olympics, it’s also an opportunity for Romney to remind voters of the integral role he played in turning around the Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Democrats have already produced Olympic-themed attacks.
Although Romney’s visit certainly makes for a political opportunity, it bears some risk. Romney’s message will have to stress the crucial roles played by America’s allies rather than just the shortcomings of Obama. Americans hold a deep aversion to their fellow countrymen going overseas and criticising any President. Even amid fierce partisan bickering, politics is still expected to stop at the water’s edge.
Ewan Watt is a Washington, DC-based consultant. You can follow him on @ewancwatt