According to the Democratic spinions, Romney’s recent overseas trip was a gaffe filled disaster. According to the Republican spinions, the trip was a great success. While it is tempting to dismiss such claims as mere ideological mandatory meepings, it is also reasonable to consider some alternatives.
One is, of course, that people see reality based on their ideology. Just as beauty is said to be in the eye of the beer holder, so too might success or failure be in the eye of the beholder. In this case, those who praise or condemn the trip are not engaging in political deceit. Rather, they are expressing exactly what they honestly feel about the events. Of course, how people feel about the events is hardly a good indicator of success. To use an obvious analogy, consider a test in college. I have had students who were certain they had gotten an A find that they had, in fact failed. I have no doubt that they felt they had gotten an A, but that feeling did not match reality. Likewise, I sometimes have students who really sweat an exam and turn it in with a downcast look, certain they have failed-only they have done quite well.
Another is that the trip was, in fact, a success relative to the Republican base and also a failure relative to the Democratic base.
First, consider the alleged gaffe in the UK. When I heard that Romney had committed a major gaffe, I inferred that he had said something on par with “London is not fit for my horse to dance upon.” However, the terrible gaffe seemed to be that Romney gave an honest answer to the the question he was asked. While it was not a politically expedient answer, it was clearly truthful and matched what news reports had been saying about the situation. From the perspective of someone looking to see the worst, this could be taken as evidence that Romney is week in the diplomatic graces-that is, he is not as skilled as he should be in knowing when to tell pleasant lies or at least when to say empty pleasantries. While I do agree that Romney could have been a bit more diplomatic in his answers as a matter of politeness, I would not say that he committed a major gaffe.
From the perspective of a pro-Romney (or anti-Obama) person, this alleged gaffe can be interpreted in terms of a hostile media trying to make Romney look bad by reporting what he actually said and then presenting it as a gaffe. Since the Republican base has been fed an anti-media diet for decades (with Fox being the notable exception) this would make Romney look good.
Second, there is the alleged gaffes in Israel. Romney made it clear that he regarded Jerusalem as the undisputed capital of Israel and he also attributed the Palestinians’ economic woes to culture. Those critical of Romney are focusing on how these remarks angered the Palestinians and seeing this as a negative. It is, I think, fair to be critical of Romney’s claim that the Palestinians’ woes are cultural. After all, it seems reasonable to consider that the Israel occupation and associated policies are contributory causal factors.
While I might take issue with Romney’s claim about the cause of the woes, I would agree with his supporters that he did not make any gaffes. After all, his remarks seem to be well calculated to appeal to his base. While the United States’ support of Israel has been bipartisan, the Republicans tend to be far less willing to consider the rights and concerns of the Palestinians. As such, remarks such as these that anger the Palestinians will most likely only enhance Romney’s popularity. As far as the culture claim, the notion that economic woes are the fault of those suffering them is standard dogma among most Republicans. As such, this remark will, at worst, not hurt Romney with his base and will probably have some small positive impact. In any case, Romney’s remarks are being defended as accurate by some, nicely supporting my claim.
Third, there is the Gorka incident in Poland. In response to reporters shouting questions at Romney while he was visiting the tomb of the unknown soldier, “Rick Gorka had a harsh response, including, “kiss my ass. This is a holy site.”
This is, of course, not a direct Romney gaffe since Romney was not the one responding to the press. On the one hand, Gorka did have a point-shouting questions at Romney while he is visiting a tomb is not very respectful. However, telling the reporter to kiss his ass was not very respectful either. On the other hand, the reporters did contend that Romney had not been willing to answer questions and it could be argued that they were trying to do their job. I would say that the reporters should have waited to a better time and that Romney should have provided them with said time for questions.
Naturally, those against Romney will cast this as a loss for Romney. After all, his press minion blew up at reporters and Romney seemed to be doing what is often seen as a standard Republican tactic-avoiding answering questions unless they are offered up by the friendly folks at Fox.
Those who support Romney will see this in a different light. After all, one stock Republican narrative is that the main stream media (other than Fox, Rush and so on) are liberally biased and are out to nail Republicans with gotcha questions. As such, having a tussle with the press can be a good way for a Republican to score some political points. Romney has, interestingly enough, accused the media (other than Fox and friends) of focusing on foreign matters rather than on the poor economy. Given that Romney just went overseas to score political points, that seems like a rather odd attack to make on the media (other than Fox and friends). However, it is a smart move relative to the media hostile (with the exception of Fox and friends) base.
Overall, I would say that Romney’s trip had little significant impact. After all, those who were unlikely to vote for him remain unlikely to do so. Those who were likely to vote for him remain likely to do so. The undecided are probably still undecided. So, it was no great loss, but also no great victory. It was a great staying the same.