It was unsurprising that the Obama campaign quickly pounced on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s ostensible “culture” gaffe in Jerusalem, with a White House spokesman saying some people “were scratching their heads a little bit.”
But some Republicans are privately acknowledging their own itchy scalps in the wake of the former Massachusetts governor’s suggestion that cultural differences are to account for the economic disparity between Israelis and Palestinians.
“I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,” Romney said Monday in Jerusalem, musing about Israel’s economic success relative to the Palestinians’. “One, I recognize the hand of providence in selecting this place…”
I find this entire trip borderline lunacy
Said one senior Republican strategist to the The Washington Post, “I find this entire trip borderline lunacy.” Speaking on condition of anonymity, he added, “Why on earth is he seeking to improve his foreign policy cred when there will not be a single vote cast on that subject?”
The strategist may have been referring to a Washington Post/ABC News poll in May in which only 1 percent of voters cited foreign policy as the most important issue of the 2012 campaign.
Another GOP source told the paper that Romney is “like the guy who is a competent-but-not-gifted athlete who learns to play golf.”
“He works really hard at it, and most of the time he’s perfectly competent, if not stellar. But once each round he is going to shank one and break a window on a house lining the golf course.”
Romney’s detour into controversy in Jerusalem, coming immediately after he was forced to walk back comments he made in London about that city’s preparedness to host the Olympic Games, overshadowed the image of a statesmen that his campaign had carefully tried to portray.
Despite winning the endorsement of former Polish president and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa in Poland on the final leg of his overseas trip, the candidate couldn’t shake the controversy even there.
As he left a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, reporters shouted questions at Romney about his comments in Israel, which Palestinians have described as “racist.”
‘…once each round he is going to shank one and break a window on a house lining the golf course’
According to reports, the candidate kept his cool and got in his car, but Rick Gorka, a campaign aide, told a reporter to “shove it” and said, “Kiss my ass — this is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect.” Gorka later called reporters to apologize.
Romney’s chief strategist Stuart Stevens called the row over Romney’s remarks in Israel “a manufactured story” and said, “This was not in any way an attempt to slight the Palestinians, and everyone knows that.”
Stevens pointed out that the candidate had made similar statements before. In Romney’s book, “No Apology,” he discusses the differences between the US and Mexico. “America’s culture… enabled the nation to become and remain the most powerful and beneficent country in the history of humankind,” it says.
Romney also infuriated the Palestinians by declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel — a definitive declaration that the Obama White House refused to do as recently as last week.
Obama, when he was a presidential candidate himself, backtracked from similar comments. Romney is unlikely to follow suit.
In 2008, candidate Obama gave a speech to AIPAC in which he declared, “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” Facing furious Palestinian criticism, Obama swiftly changed tack, telling CNN: “Well, obviously, it’s going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations… As a practical matter, it would be very difficult to execute” a division of the city. “And I think that it is smart for us to — to work through a system in which everybody has access to the extraordinary religious sites in Old Jerusalem but that Israel has a legitimate claim on that city.”
‘This was not in any way an attempt to slight the Palestinians, and everyone knows that’
Team Romney believes that the overall message from the challenger’s overseas trip is being received favorably by voters. They point to the Walesa endorsement and the warm reception and praise he received from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Notably, the front pages of newspapers in key swing states – the Palm Beach Post (Florida), the Dayton Daily News (Ohio) and the Las Vegas Review Journal (Nevada) – all portrayed his Israel trip positively.