How could any politician with any modicum of sagacity—let alone someone who’s one election away from the Oval Office—venture abroad and question whether his host country was “ready” for the Olympics? Romney came across as simultaneously a know-nothing and a smug know-it-all—at least about the Olympic Games, which he seems to think he owns and which he has regularly treated like one of those enterprises taken over by Bain ever since he took over the 2002 Winter Games.
He also seemed not to know the name of Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, who could be prime minister relatively soon into the next presidential term. At the press conference when the two men met, Romney referred to Miliband as “Mr. Leader”—a title that doesn’t exist in Britain but a convenient refuge if you can’t remember who it is you’re standing next to. The GOP hopeful also didn’t know that he wasn’t supposed to volunteer—no one is—that he had just been briefed by the chief of MI6, Britain’s secret intelligence service. Such a thing, as they say in London, just isn’t done.
For his Olympic-level faux pas, his fellow conservatives across the pond peeped rebuke and ridicule on Romney. The current Prime Minister, David Cameron, archly observed that there was a difference between holding the Games in one of the world’s “busiest, most active, bustling cities and the easier” job of holding them out “in the middle of nowhere”—a pointed put-down of Mitt’s role in Salt Lake City a decade of winters ago. London Mayor Boris Johnson poked fun at a “guy named Mitt who wants to know whether we’re ready” and ignited a crowd of 60,00 in Hyde Park to chant: “Yes, we are”—for Romney, a discomforting echo of the 2008 Obama mantra.
While Rupert Murdoch’s Sun memorably labeled Romney “Mitt the Twit,” it wasn’t just the British press and politicians who scorned his bumbling performance. Karl Rove, who’s assembling hundreds of millions of dollars to elect him president—and who perhaps should go from being “Bush’s brain” to being Romney’s—ruefully said “you have to shake your head” about the way the candidate just stepped into it. The conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer was blunter: The episode was “unbelievable…beyond human understanding…It’s like a guy in the hundred meter dash. All he has to do is finish, he doesn’t have to win. And instead he tackles the guy in the next lane and gets disqualified.”
Disqualified is the right word because Romney went overseas precisely to show he was qualified to be president. Seldom if ever has any such an effort made someone look so foolish so fast, with so much blowback coming from across the political spectrum.