If Mitt Romney were to retroactively cancel his visit to the U.K., he would receive an accolade of praise from the British people, who would unequivocally welcome his absence.
In just two days, the likely GOP presidential candidate has managed to offend millions, by claiming that London wasn’t prepared for the Olympics, calling Ed Miliband “Mr. Leader,” breaching protocol by discussing a meeting with MI6, and explaining how he had a look outside the “backside” of Number 10 during a visit (in limeyspeak, a “backside” is a “butt”).
As the tabloid Sun put it: “Mitt the Twit.” Meanwhile, Twitter has exploded in mirth at his comments with the hashtags #Romneyshambles #Americanborat and #Mitthitsthefan trending on both sides of the Atlantic, with the Democratic National Committee rapidly leaping on the story in a rapid reaction video.
But it’s the Conservative commentary which is most trenchant. The prime minister explicitly slapped down Romney’s claim of expertise for running the much smaller Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities in the world,” David Cameron said at a press conference in the Olympic park yesterday. “Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London and a bumptious but popular potential future challenger to Cameron, used Romney as the butt (or is that backside?) of his jokes during a speech to crowds gathered in Hyde Park for a pre-Olympic concert last night. The Daily Telegraph, often considered the in-house journal for the Conservative base in the U.K., added the ultimate acidic putdown:
“Mitt Romney is perhaps the only politician who could start a trip that was supposed to be a charm offensive by being utterly devoid of charm and mildly offensive.”
Of course, there has been a bipartisan tradition of anti-Americanism in the U.K., which dates back over 200 years to a rather fractious dispute over tea and taxation, and actually reached its zenith during the first London Olympics in 1908. But that’s not the major factor here. Barack Obama is still very popular in the U.K., perhaps because—if Donald Trump is right about the president’s birth certificate and Kenyan origins —he’s technically a U.K. citizen. It’s Mitt’s rudeness and sense of entitlement that chafes. As Carl Lewis, the sprinting legend, told the Independent today: “Seriously, some Americans just shouldn’t leave the country.”
That this chorus of derision has been mainly led by British Conservatives is the most telling of all. A generation ago, in the era of Thatcher and Reagan, the GOP and the Tories were natural allies, avatars of small government at home and big government abroad. But the rift between them has grown ever wider since. Cameron became leader of the Conservative Party on a program of modernization, and has actively campaigned on liberal social issues like same-sex marriage. His election campaign in 2010 was famously supported by the Sun newspaper and Rebekah Brooks, who tried to emulate Obama’s style and tone, texting Cameron with the message ‘Yes we Cam!’ and stealing the style of the famous Obama ’08 election poster on the morning of the general election in 2010, with the caption “Our Only Hope.”
Either the British Conservatives have become closet socialists and liberals or—perhaps more likely—the Republican Party has drifted much further to the right since the days Maggie and Ronnie danced at the ambassador’s residence. Meanwhile, having seen a dress rehearsal of tonight’s Opening Ceremony two days ago, I’m not sure how Romney and his supporters will feel about one elaborate dance section that celebrates “socialized health care” and the NHS. But we owe him a vote of thanks. He’s already cheered us all up.
Rarely has a presidential candidate been so remorselessly ridiculed. On the eve of Britain’s most high-profile event for decades (and its biggest peacetime security operation), Romney has diverted us from the usual complaints about the traffic, the weather, or unavailable tickets, and united the country in celebration of his gaffes.
By comparison, Romney has made our politicians look good: and there should be Olympic medals for that.