John Avlon repeats a common claim about Romney’s foreign trip that is remarkably misleading:
When the leading British Conservatives – Prime Minister David Cameron and Mayor Boris Johnson – disrespect the visiting conservative presidential candidate, you know things have gone horribly wrong.
There’s no question that things went wrong with Romney’s visit to Britain, but this isn’t very good evidence. Yes, Romney would have been able to avoid being publicly mocked by these Conservatives if he hadn’t made his comments about London’s preparations for the Olympics, but it’s not as if Johnson or Cameron were natural Romney boosters in the first place. This is why the decision to visit Britain didn’t make much sense. It was obvious during Cameron’s visit to the U.S. that he wanted nothing to do with current leading Republicans, including Romney. There have long been significant policy and cultural differences between Republicans and Conservatives, and these have only widened in the last few years. Where Cameron has tried to adapt his party to new political conditions, Romney has been desperately transforming himself to be acceptable to his party. In that respect, Romney is the anti-Cameron.
Romney’s visit to Britain was based on the idea that Obama has regularly neglected and insulted Britain, which is a view that Johnson and Cameron don’t share. The full measure of Romney’s failure in Britain was confirmed when he managed to alienate many of the people on the British right that also don’t like Cameron. If the real purpose of Romney’s trip was to satisfy hawks back home and improve his stature with local nationalists, the visit to Britain failed on both counts.
Avlon complains that Romney’s foreign tour was largely free of policy substance, which must be the first time that Romney has been criticized for keeping his word. He goes on to say that Romney’s trip would have been more successful if he had provided a clear contrast with both Obama and George W. Bush:
If Romney had proposed bold new policies that distinguished him from both Obama and the last President Bush, he might have been able to turn his foreign tour into a triumph.
Along the same lines, if most of Romney’s foreign policy advisers weren’t Bush administration veterans his foreign policy views wouldn’t be virtually indistinguishable from Bush’s, but that requires us to imagine such a radically different Romney campaign that there’s no point to the exercise. Obama has continued Bush-era policies on indefinite detention, rendition, and drone strikes, so to distinguish himself Romney would have to criticize Obama for his abuses of civil liberties and executive power while proposing to roll back many or all of these measures. That would be a welcome move, but Romney isn’t the candidate for it. The only clear way for Romney to distinguish himself from both Obama and Bush would be to run against the incumbent as an antiwar and civil libertarian candidate. That would be interesting to see, and it would produce some healthy and necessary debate that is sorely lacking among national politicians, but that obviously isn’t going to happen.
The truth is that the entire trip was organized around the belief that Bush-era foreign policy was successful and U.S. relationships with allies and clients were better then than they are now. Romney could not have articulated policies that distinguish him from Bush because he and his advisers seem to think that Bush’s foreign policy is generally one that ought to be imitated rather than rejected. Even so, he has to campaign as the “anything but Obama” candidate because there appears to be some awareness on Romney’s team that most voters don’t want to hear any specific proposals on foreign policy, and the policy preferences of Romney’s advisers are bound to be even more unpopular than Obama’s most unpopular policies.