Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney answers reporters'… (AP Photo / Charles Dharapak )
The Financial Times called it a “shaky start.” The New York Times described it as a “verbal slip.” The liberal Talking Points memo upped the ante, going with “spectacularly bad start.” All those barbs came Mitt Romney’s way because he said the same things that Londoners have been saying about their Olympics for weeks.
The sad irony of the U.K. Kerfuffle is that Romney usually takes guff for dancing around his opinions. But as a visiting guest this week, and as the man credited with rescuing the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games from scandal, Romney decided to wax more like the decisive businessman. And he got, as the Brits might say, a “good going over” for it.
PHOTOS: Romney's trip abroad
It was in an interview with NBC that Romney’s fiercely modulated presentation succumbed to the reality of the facts on the ground. The presumed Republican presidential nominee described as “disconcerting” British preparation for the Games, which open Friday.
“The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging,” Romney said in the interview.
The Brits have been saying all that and more — worrying about traffic, attendance at events, terrorist violence. Notoriously chatty London cabbies have vented about how special restrictive traffic plans had bollixed up much of London.
Romney only described what he saw and heard. But “diplomacy” is just another word for plenty left to lose. So diplomats and visiting politicians tend to pull a nice, gauzy scrim over things. That’s what Romney tried to do, at least a bit, when he met later with Labor Party leader Ed Miliband. “The Games are, after all,” Romney said, “about the athletes, the volunteers and the people of the community that come together to celebrate those athletes.”
But the unfortunate Yankee was not playing on his home court and the Olympic credo came a bit late.
Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron got in what was seen as one of the first counterpunches. “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world,” Cameron said. “Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.” For those mapping this at home, Middle of Nowhere = Salt Lake City, home of Romney’s Olympic triumph. (Even if Cameron wasn’t reacting to a question about Salt Lake, it was taken that way.)
The Guardian newspaper devoted a whole blog to additional potshots at Romney, including one that compared the candidate to a movie fop: “Romney in London. Come on. We needed this. It's a little comic relief. Kind of like Mr. Bean, only he's an American.”
The Romney statements became a rallying cry for London Mayor Boris Johnson, who addressed 60,000 people assembled in Hyde Park at the end of the Olympic torch relay. “There are some people coming from around the world who don't yet know if we are ready,” the mayor shouted. “There's a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we are ready. Are we ready? Yes we are!” Londoners roared their assent.
So score one, in a roundabout way, for the traveling candidate. Romney had done more to unite a nation around its Olympics than years of promotion and preparation. How about a little thank you, Mayor?