It’s not likely that Romney’s trip will have any effect at all on what foreign policy specialists think about him. For that, he would need to actually outline policies that impress them — which is unlikely, since there’s a very small overlap of foreign policy ideas that conservative orthodoxy would allow and what’s generally popular, and my guess is that whatever fits into that very small corner is some sort of mindless demagoguery that would leave policy specialists not pleased at all. However, it certainly could impress nonspecialist reporters and pundits — at least enough to keep them from talking about foreign policy as an important weakness of the challenger [bold mine-DL]. If it does that, it’s a reasonable use of time.
That’s possible. On the other hand, isn’t the non-specialist perception of Romney’s weakness on foreign policy informed by specialist criticisms and by the griping from some of Romney’s own advisers that he isn’t taking the subject seriously enough? Romney’s unhappy advisers and some hawks from outside the campaign don’t claim to be worried that Romney is weak on foreign policy. On the whole, they agree with Romney and think his policy views are generally on the right track. They’re annoyed that the campaign isn’t focused enough on these issues. Even after a trip overseas, the reasons for their complaints will remain. The campaign will still pay foreign policy relatively little attention, many of the advisers will still feel ignored and unappreciated, and Republican hawks convinced that the GOP owns these issues will still be dissatisfied with the campaign. Advisers will keep giving reporters unflattering quotes testifying to Romney’s indifference, hawks will keep wailing that Romney is “ceding” foreign policy all together, and the non-specialist perception of inexperience and incompetence gradually becomes part of the general election conventional wisdom.
Here’s what I still don’t understand. Obama is still quite popular in three of the four countries Romney plans to visit, and the sort of fiscal policy that Romney claims to want for the U.S. (and the one he has recommended for Europe as well) is deeply unpopular across Europe. Obama was already very popular overseas before his 2008 trip, so much so that there was a danger that his international popularity might blow up in his face back home. As it turned out, that didn’t happen, but there was a chance that Obama’s “citizen of the world” rhetoric wouldn’t go over well in some parts of the country. Romney is in no danger of being greeted by cheering crowds of excited Europeans.
Wherever he goes in Europe, it is a safe bet that the local media will link him to Bush and compare him unfavorably with Obama. It’s not hard to imagine how the reports might read: “Unlike Obama, who spoke to a huge crowd of fans in Berlin four years ago, Romney’s visit to Germany has barely been noticed.” When Romney is in Britain for the Olympics, local reporters will remind us that Cameron chose not to meet with Romney or any Republican leaders when he was here during his visit, and there will be stories contrasting this with the good relations Cameron and Obama seem to have. All of that will be relayed to domestic audiences, and it won’t help Romney. I submit that anything that recalls memories of frayed Bush-era alliances, “old Europe,” and the extremely low standing of the U.S. in many European countries under the previous administration is bad news for Romney. All three of his European stops will bring up these memories in one way or another. In the end, the perception that relations with European allies would probably be more difficult under Romney will matter more to non-specialists than a few photo-ops in European cities.