Will Mitt Romney's London woes hurt him at home?
- 27 July 2012
- From the section US & Canada
Team Romney has long made it clear that the travelling pool - the journalists and camera people who record and monitor their every step - will not be allowed to follow them to the opening ceremony itself.
"No traveller or pool coverage available", reads the note. For that they must be glad. Otherwise they might have to cover their heads in blankets.
They will have had a glum breakfast. Last night's campaign fund-raising dinner, where each guest had to pay $25,000 (£16,000) a head, might have choked them. Their security physically stopped the cameras getting shots of anti-Mormon protesters, but nothing could block the barrage of negative coverage.
The London leg of Mitt Romney's much-vaunted foreign trip could hardly have gone worse.
It has even spawned its own Twitter hashtag: #romneyshambles.
Is there such a thing as being not an honoured guest, but a dishonoured one?
If so, Mr Romney is one. The prime minister has dismissed his 2002 Olympic triumph as being "in the middle of nowhere"; a UK minister told Newsnight he would have no chance of carrying the Olympic torch after his remarks, and Mayor Boris Johnson simply mocked him.
The British newspapers are vicious this morning. "Romney slur causes stir - wannabe president in Games insult," says the Sun.
"Who invited party pooper Romney?" asks the Daily Mail, above a headline listing the "gaffes of muddled Mitt".
The Times is, if anything, even more savage. "'Nowhere man' Romney loses his way with gaffe about the Games" is their headline.
You can argue all this is rather unfair. Let's look at those other alleged "gaffes".
Calling Ed Miliband "Mr Leader" is odd, but less so to American ears. However, a call to a protocol officer in the US embassy would have prevented it.
Talking about the "backside of Downing Street" had me sniggering, but most Americans would be unaware of the gentle slang for what they, but not we, would call their "fanny".
Revealing that he had been given a briefing by the head of MI6 may be against British practice but is hardly giving the game away to terrorists - a country where the secret service wear jackets marked "secret service" is rather more open about these things.
As for the major offence, Mitt Romney was merely raising the same doubts behind the stories that have dominated both the BBC news and newspaper headlines for weeks.
The Sun did not accuse the Mail of a slur, nor the Mail say the Sun was a party-pooper for raising legitimate questions about London's readiness to run the Games.
Romney's pitch at home is that he is a businessman not a politician. It is rather disingenuous given that he was an elected governor from 2003 to 2007 and has been campaigning to be president ever since then.
But his most fervent supporters might argue that he was giving a blunt, truthful assessment of London's readiness rather than indulging diplomatic double-talk.
If he had said that the Games would go without a hitch that would have been foolhardy.
And one of his big arguments is that Obama is too worried about offending foreigners. He's certainly demonstrated that he doesn't care about that.
That's the case for the defence. But no-one said life, or the media, is fair.
Mr Romney's message for viewers back home - that he connects with the leaders of America's allies and can be trusted with its interests abroad - lies in tatters.
He's offended the British government. The British press have decided he is a knave and a fool. Opponents at home have gleefully leapt on his woes.
The Democrats even rushed out this advert (which happens to feature a couple of seconds of your correspondent).
All he needs now is for his wife's horse to win gold, and be heavily featured in all the TV pictures back home. It is competing in the dressage competition, the one where the prancing animals perform a difficult, elegant ballet.
It is safe to say that dressage does not have the same place in the heart of the American blue-collar worker as Nascar racing or baseball.
Pinning Mitt to a refined and elitist sport might be even more damaging than his unique twist on the special relationship.