We want to write about Barack Obama, we really do. Our weekly roundup on international coverage of the U.S. presidential election is a great way to show you what foreigners are reading and saying about America. But over the last few weeks, no one has wanted to talk about the president. It’s been nothing but Mitt Romney all day, all the time: yes, the GOP candidate sure is making big new overseas.
Unfortunately, it’s for all the wrong reasons.
First came Romney’s reaction to the Libya crisis, which struck many observers as opportunistic and even un-presidential. Then Politico reported on deep divisions within the challenger’s camp on campaign strategy.
Now a surreptitiously taped video of a GOP fundraiser shows Romney attacking those who receive government benefits as “victims” and calling the prospect of Israeli-Palestinian peace “almost unthinkable.”
Smelling blood in the water, foreign journalists, just like American ones, are circling Team Romney.
J. Brooks Spector of South Africa’s Daily Maverick says we should have seen this coming: the Republican Convention, minus one unscripted harangue from Clint Eastwood, was a bore and Romney didn’t even get the typical post-convention “bounce” to his poll numbers. Spector, a former American diplomat, sees parallels between Romney’s foundering campaign and a certain transatlantic ocean liner with a reputation for disaster:
If this were the voyage of the Titanic, the candidate would be cheerfully presiding over the captain’s table while quaffing a glass of non-alcoholic champagne and reminiscing about the days when he and his wife had had to consume far too much tuna-noodle casserole while he was still a poverty-stricken naval cadet.
The candidate who once looked like the epitome of the successful capitalist is starting to remind people of an incompetent manager who doesn’t know when to shut up, Spector writes. He’ll have one last chance to jump-start his campaign at the first presidential debate on October 3rd.
Back to the drawing board
Romney realizes he’s in trouble, reports Jon Frosch of france24.com. His advisers have promised a new approach to the campaign, including hard-hitting ads and concrete proposals for economic policy. But it might be too little, too late. Forget the gaffes and the leaks and the so-called “likeability” gap: pure demographics mean trouble for the Republicans.
“African-Americans, Hispanics, unmarried women, young voters, and those with college degrees, all key sources of Obama support,” writes Frosch, “make up a growing share of the voting public; conversely, the proportion of white working-class men, the group Obama has the greatest difficulty attracting, is on the decline.”
Of course, minorities and the young are harder to bring to the polls so if Obama’s get-out-the-vote machine doesn’t work in November, the Democratic demographic advantage won’t matter this year.
But as the make-up of America continues to change over the next few election cycles, Romney and the right-wing of the GOP could become obsolete without a redesign on immigration, womens’ rights and other key issues.
For now, the candidate is trying to right the ship and calm nervous donors as his poll numbers dip. The Financial Times of London says that Romney held a conference call with some of his wealthy backers earlier this week in which he argued that he still has a solid shot of unseating the incumbent.
Not everyone bought that.
The FT is also reporting that one of Romney’s top advisers, his former GOP rival Tim Pawlenty, has quit the campaign to join a firm that lobbies for the banking industry. We guess that with the prospect of a cabinet position in a Romney administration seeming more and more unlikely, Pawlenty decided to take the money and run. What’s the old expression about rats and a sinking ship?
Meanwhile, a prominent Republican lobbyist, Chris Chocola of the Club for Growth, gave Romney what the British paper describes as a “tepid” endorsement, saying ““I think he has the potential to exceed expectations. But it’s a mixed bag with Romney. That’s his problem . . . you don’t really know how he’ll serve.”
Hope for the best, don’t sweat the rest
Not everyone overseas has been critical of Romney, however. His comments on the conflict between Israel and Palestine drew great praise from Jewish settlers in the disputed West Bank.
In the secretly taped video, Romney argues that “the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace.” He goes onto compare the situation in Israel to the one that exists between China and Taiwan, adding “all right, we have a potentially volatile situation, but we sort of live with it. And we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve [it].”
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Doni Dayan, a former politician and current lobbyist for the settlers, says: “[Romney] described the reality that anyone with eyes can see. More and more people around the world realize it. After 20 years of the Oslo diplomatic process, anyone who thinks two states is still possible doesn’t know what he is talking about.”
You can listen to Romney’s comments here:
Democrats jumped on Romney’s remarks as cynical and uninformed.
But is there a clear difference between Obama and Romney on foreign policy? A piece in Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster, says that if there is, it’s one of tone, not substance. Economic weakness, a gridlocked Congress, and the unwillingness of the American people to engage in more foreign wars means that the next president, Democrat or Republican, won’t have a lot of room to maneuver. And Obama’s campaign strategy has left Romney with a tough choice: either ignore foreign policy or shift hard to the right.
“The central problem is that Obama has in fact run a rather centrist, you could even argue a center-right, foreign policy,” explains Stephen Walt of the Harvard Kennedy School, in the DW piece. “It has not been a leftist foreign policy at all. And that has left Romney with hardly any issues that he can push.”
At least not in public.
One thing’s for sure. The invitations to Mitt’s next fundraiser better read: “No cameras, please.”