Mitt Romney's campaign stirred up controversy Wednesday with a campaign… (Jose Luis Villegas / AP Photo/The…)
As Mitt Romney landed Wednesday morning in London to launch a three-country overseas trip, an anonymous quote in a British newspaper caused a kerfuffle on both sides of the pond.
The Telegraph quoted an unnamed Romney advisor as saying that President Obama’s White House did not sufficiently appreciate the shared “Anglo-Saxon” heritage of the United States and Britain.
The Romney camp flatly denied that the governor or his campaign shared the sentiment.
“It’s not true,” spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg wrote in an email. “If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Gov. Romney or anyone inside the campaign.”
The Obama campaign seized on the blind quote, with Vice President Joe Biden saying that Romney’s advisors were “playing politics with international diplomacy” despite pledging to avoid castigating Obama’s policies while overseas
“The comments reported this morning are a disturbing start to a trip designed to demonstrate Gov. Romney’s readiness to represent the United States on the world’s stage,” Biden said in a statement. “Not surprisingly, this is just another feeble attempt by the Romney campaign to score political points at the expense of this critical partnership. This assertion is beneath a presidential campaign.”
Romney’s camp hit back, saying that it was the vice president who was diminishing the nation’s political discourse.
“[T]he Vice President of the United States used an anonymous and false quote from a foreign newspaper to prop up their flailing campaign,” said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams, noting that the president’s press secretary regularly questions the worthiness of anonymous sources. “We have very serious problems confronting our nation and American families are hurting, yet the Obama campaign continues to try to divert voters' attention with specious shiny objects. We have more faith in American voters, and know they will see this latest desperate ploy for what it is.”
It’s a valid point. Obama officials have routinely shot down anonymous sources, such as the purported Indian government official quoted by the Press Trust of India as saying that the president’s trip there in 2010 would cost taxpayers $200 million per day. (This figure, which was picked up by conservative critics of the president, was found to be false and grossly exaggerated for many reasons).
But the reason the quote attributed to the Romney advisor is resonating is because of its racial implications, and its suggestion that Obama is less than fully American. That appeal is rooted in the discredited "birther" movement that posits that the president was not born in the United States. Obama was born in Hawaii. His father was African and Obama spent part of his childhood in Indonesia.
Romney has consistently said he believes the president was born in the United States, though he has stood alongside prominent birthers such as Donald Trump.
And Romney and a top surrogate have flirted with the issue in recent days. Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu said the president needed to “learn how to be an American,” a comment he later apologized for. And Romney has repeatedly said on the campaign trail over the last week and a half that Obama was leading the nation down a “foreign” path, one that he said in Pennsylvania last week that “changes America.”
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