Wading across the waters to London can be a treacherous proposition for any American politician, as Mitt Romney discovered this week when he suggested to the Brits that they might not quite be ready to host the Olympics.
“It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out,” Romney said in an interview with NBC News, adding that the late-breaking concerns over security staffing were “disconcerting.”
Romney’s comments set off a barrage of derision, ridicule and attack by the notoriously sensitive and sometimes outrageous British media—and even from some British leaders.
One London tabloid blasted the headline “Mitt the Twit” from its pages in a howl of protest.
Prime Minister David Cameron smacked Romney back by seeming to make fun of Romney’s stewardship of the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2000.
“We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”
The British media loved the insult. “PM delivers Olympic putdown to Romney,” The Times newspaper in London screamed.
The Brits have also given Barack Obama a hard time during his visits to the Uk. They made fun of the gift of 25 DVDs (apparently in the wrong format) he presented to Prime Minister Gordon Brown and to Queen Elizabeth, to whom he and Michelle gave an iPod. Obama also created a stir from the offended London press when he returned a bust of Winston Churchill to the Brits that George Bush had installed in the Oval Office. That bust popped up as part of another controversy this week, as the London paper the Daily Telegraph ran a piece quoting two anonymous advisers to Romney as saying President Obama doesn’t “appreciate” the “special” Anglo Saxon heritage the U.S. and the British share—an obvious reference to Obama’s race. The advisers said Romney would eagerly reinstall the Churchill bust in the Oval Office.
While Romney distanced himself from the adviser’s remarks and said he didn’t agree with their comments about Obama, Romney was quick to pounce on the Churchill bust.
“You live here, you see the sites day in and day out, but for me as I drive past the sculpture of Winston Churchill and see that great sculpture next to Westminster Abbey and Parliament and with him larger than life, enormous heft of that sculpture suggesting the scale of the grandeur and the greatness of the man, it tugs at the heart strings to remember the kind of example that was led by Winston Churchill,” Romney said.
“And I’m looking forward to the bust of Winston Churchill being in the Oval Office again,” he added.
Romney also tried to clean up his remarks about the Olympics.
“It is impossible for absolutely no mistakes to occur,” he said. “Of course there will be errors from time to time, but those are all overshadowed by the extraordinary demonstrations of courage, character and determination by the athletes.”
But the damage was done. With the British press, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.