Monday, July 9, 2012

Celebrated Summer

Dan Drezner and Dan Larison have been going back and forth and back about Mitt Romney's announced plan to take a prestige-building foreign trip this summer. Both of them agree on a few things: Romney has been an embarrassing hack on foreign affairs so far; foreign policy isn't apt to be a plus for Republicans this year, presumably whatever Romney does; and anyway, the election won't turn on foreign policy and national security. It's a good discussion.

I'll add a couple of things. 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. If it does that, it's a reasonable use of time.

Which gets to the second point: opportunity costs. What he gives up for a foreign trip are some campaign appearances. But we're talking late July here; I think it's highly unlikely that a couple dozen campaign appearances several months have any effect at all. Sure, if he has nothing better to do, he might as well campaign in front of voters; it's not as if there's apt to be much harm in it, and so why not? But if there's anything actually worthwhile to do with his time, losing stump minutes isn't a reason to avoid it.

The only significant reason I can really think of that a foreign trip could be a campaign error would be the possibility of an effect on the candidate's health and stamina going forward. Don't forget, we're talking about a 65 year old candidate, and even much younger politicians have had minor health difficulties keeping up with the demands of the campaign trail (I'm thinking of Nixon in 1960, who had an ill-timed cold or flu or something like that, and Clinton in 1992, who repeatedly lost his voice). I assume Romney will travel in much more luxurious conditions than Nixon did in 1960, but still, it's a factor to consider.

Other than that, however, I'd say it's a reasonable choice.


  1. Dont know if this has been mentioned in the posts cited here, but there are a couple other benefits to going for this.

    First, it shows the electorate that you believe you're going to win, which I have to believe has a positive psychological effect on your supporters. Thia, I think, is kind of like picking a super-qualified but perhapsI boring VP, which shows that you're more worried about dying in office than losing the election.

    Second, if Mr. Romney does this by going to Europe, he can use the trip as a pivot to talk about the economy. (There's something of a slight risk in doing this because Mr. Romney is putting forth a substantive platform that would make America's economy crater just like Europe's, but nobody really pays attention to that stuff, right?)

    Anyway, all-in-all seems like a good idea even in an election where foreign policy is not a major issue.

  2. 2 Other Points:

    1. Remember that he is going to the Olympics, which will mean very positive coverage of his role in SLC 2002, some of which will be before a huge TV audience of sports fans and other people who arent paying much attention yet.

    2. He is 65, but hasnt lived hard at all. I dont mean that negatively, I just mean that because he has never drank, smoked, or worked in the sun (all while staying physically fit); we're not talking about our grandparents' 65.

  3. Obama did the same thing in 2008, and Republicans attacked him for it (in particular the large European crowds he attracted). Remember McCain's "Celebrity" ads? At the time, this line of attack was perceived as effective, though I suspect JB would file this under "didn't matter".

    1. In "Game Change", they imply that this line of attack (Celebrity) was dropped by McCain because he gave up the "gravitas" argument by 1) nominating an inexperienced Governor and 2) flubbing his response to the economic crisis.

  4. yeah I thought that it'd be a marginally worthwhile use of his time, even if it will be an empty exercise.

    I think they had a few arguably good reasons to do it:

    1. Obama did it. Romney's trip will suffer a bit by comparison, but he is a FP novice, and if his trip has no big problems, it'll be played up by the partisan press as a threshold met.

    2. Netanyahu. Romney has an actual longtime acquaintanceship with him, and he can and should pursue whatever perceptual benefit it might provide.

    3. Olympics. A big résumé plus. He had already long planned to attend the opening ceremonies, which will get him seen in a highly desirable setting that lots of people see as transcending petty politics (ha). But if he had traveled to London only to come right home, it probably could have been spun as actively trying to avoid a European Photo-Op Tour.

    So... not a bad decision.

    However, there are a couple potential landmines:

    1. He’s giving a speech in London on U.S. foreign policy. Given that he’s never given an important, high-profile speech on U.S. foreign policy in the U.S., that may play somewhat awkwardly in the campaign press.

    2. This LIBOR fraud scandal is just opening up, and Bob Diamond, one of Romney’s buds and now former big-bucks fundraiser, is still at the center of it all. How many more Romney-linked bankers are involved? Inquiring business reporters should want to know.

    3. A public address in Poland, presumably including criticism of Obama’s decision to scrap the missile defense shield, could instead be dominated by the campaign press repeating Romney’s belief that Russia is “our number one geopolitical foe” and that he wrote an Op-Ed opposing the ratification of the New START treaty with Russia.

    4. Romney bashes Europe regularly:

    --"He's taking us down a path towards Europe," Romney told supporters at a Father's Daybreakfast in this Cleveland suburb. "He wants us to see a bigger and bigger government, with a healthcare system run by the government. He wants to see people paying more and more in taxes."

    --A December 2006 blueprint for his first presidential campaign, disclosed by the Boston Globe, featured Romney attacks on "European-style socialism"... saying the European Union wanted to "drag America down to Europe's standards," adding: "That's where Hillary and Dems would take us. Hillary = France."
    --In March, Romney mocked Europeans at a rally in Wisconsin. He accused Obama of blocking oil, coal and natural gas projects, saying, "That's of course so that you can have the applause of the Europeans for all of the wind and solar that you're using."

    Any number of his Eurobashing comments could be replayed in the European press, to unflattering effect.

    5. If there’s even any hint of a layover in Zurich, all bets are off. The entire trip would be construed as an elaborate cover for a long-delayed chance for the candidate to visit his money.

  5. I was going to chime in, but first, I just have to thumbs-up Sandy's, Writer's and will's points. All fine points.

    My $0.02 is that because stump speeches are just so frickin' boring, they don't generate news. The Romney news seems to have slowed to a trickle lately. Part of that is the vacation, of course, but it seemed to me to have slowed before that. "Romney attacks Obama on economy" can only be your headline so many times. The publishers/editors view the per-diem of the embed reporter to be a sunk cost, and won't bother running the story unless it has news (or something else makes people care about the campaign in early July).

    However, you send the reporter on the foreign trip, because something might happen. He'll give some speech that will be billed as "major," so you need to cover it. And with all that extra cost, the report on Romney attacking Obama over the economy during that week will get shown. Plus, all the other valid points others have made.

    The trip is a good idea; the opportunity cost of forgoing domestic stump speeches is essentially zero, the risk of saying something stupid is pretty similar, and you almost certainly get more coverage than staying home would. Tie in the other valid points people are making, and I see this as a good idea for Romney. I don't think it will make any difference, but it's got more upside than downside.

  6. That was actually quite common in western democracies for a challenger to an incumbent. You wnat to show that you ares serious and not just some politician, that you have the same status of the incumbent. And how do you prove it? Easy: A politician abroad is statesman.

    The most obvious move in the rest of the west is a visit to White House. In the american case, you want to visit the bigger countries and not say Belgium. But you don't want complications: So no Beijing or even Moscow.

    Because of his rhetoric Romney can't go to Rome or Madrid. And even Paris is too complicated: Too many questions like "Do you think this socialist will ruin his country".

    So that leaves Germany, the UK and Poland. Two of the mots important western european countries and the most important int he east. Alle three governed by center-right coalitions and in all three he can argue: That is not the Europe you are looking for, everybody loves austerity here!

    So it's a time honored election campaign tradition and probably mildly positive.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?