Letter from America: Romney Israel trip untimely

Romney's visit coincide with the weekend’s regularly scheduled pause in news cycle.

Mitt Romney delivers speech in Jerusalem 370 (R) (photo credit: Jason Reed / Reuters)
Mitt Romney delivers speech in Jerusalem 370 (R)
(photo credit: Jason Reed / Reuters)
WASHINGTON – Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney might have chosen a less-then-stellar moment to try to gain attention in Israel, arriving as he did on Tisha Be’av. But even in America, where most people were not observing a day of spiritual mourning on Sunday, his trip hit a news dead-zone that was just as significant.
Not only did his visit coincide with the weekend’s regularly scheduled pause in the news cycle, TV viewers were glued to the opening of Olympic competition just hours earlier.
The combination did not make for a considerable boost for Romney on the Israel portion of his multiday foreign trip. Even the news talk shows that fill the airwaves on Sunday mornings and focus on policy and politics were up against US basketball superstars in their first Olympic match.
CNN, in assessing the Romney trip, found agreement between analysts on the Right and Left on a major point: It was very bad timing.
“The Olympics are going on.
Nobody’s paying attention to this,” said Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative website RedState.com.
“I don’t know why he went over there,” said liberal columnist and commentator L.Z. Granderson. “I don’t think a lot of people are paying attention.”
The timing even raised questions about the wisdom of the trip – after all, the time conflict with the Olympics wasn’t exactly an unanticipated development.
On the other hand, when everything going on in the US is getting overshadowed by sporting competitions in the UK, maybe it is just as good a time for a candidate to be out of the country. It wasn’t as if Romney had to give up on fundraising, which is a major occupation of candidates during the dog days of summer.
The former Massachusetts governor reportedly raked in $1 million at the Jerusalem fundraiser Monday morning after similar events in Britain.
And even if Romney didn’t get the full-court press of photos and video from his overseas trip the way then-candidate Barack Obama did when he addressed a sea of supporters in Germany or held a press conference in the missile-besieged town of Sderot in 2008, that might be to the Republican candidate’s benefit.
Most of the coverage of Romney has focused on the unforced errors he’s made, starting with his comments about Britain’s Olympic preparations before he even arrived in England, in which he called early obstacles “disconcerting” and stated it was “hard to know just how well it will turn out” during a Wednesday interview.
Those remarks earned him a rebuke from Prime Minister David Cameron and scathing headlines in British tabloids – and none too positive ones in the US, either.
Romney’s anticipated stop in Germany was scrapped when it turned out that Chancellor Angela Merkel would be on summer holiday, and the awkward logistical dance continued when he abruptly canceled a meeting with Israeli Labor Party leader Shelly Yechimovich as Israeli political considerations tangled up the American candidate.
Then, just as reporting on Romney’s tough comments regarding Iran at his policy speech in Jerusalem on Sunday began to gather steam, he made further comments seen as an insult by the Palestinians at the Monday morning fundraiser.
The Palestinians were already peeved that Romney referred to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (a comment that at least had the political payoff of also pleasing many Jewish and Evangelical voters), when he chalked up differences in the Israeli and Palestinian economies in part to culture.
“It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation,” Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, was quoted as telling the Associated Press.
The Romney campaign said the statement was grossly misunderstood, as it had been made in the wider context of historical economic differences between many countries and was not the only issue Romney was pointing to.
Either way, it looks like Michael Phelps isn’t the only competitor not getting everything he had hoped for on foreign soil.