LONDON, England – Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is here to begin his seven-day, three-country foreign trip, a trip that is different in scope and focus from his rival's trip four years ago.
President Obama, then a senator, visited eight countries -- Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Germany, England and France -- over eight days.
Romney’s doing a much smaller tour over one week, focusing on England, Israel and Poland. John McCain stopped by Jordan, France, England and Israel in 2008, when he was the Republican running for president.
These trips, typical for a nominee in election year, take the candidate off their domestic campaigning but showcase their reception and leadership on the world stage.
Obama in 2008 and Romney this year each picked late July to travel, while McCain's trip was much earlier in the year, in March just after he had clinched enough delegates to win the nomination.
Romney is looking to home in on strong U.S. allies, kicking off with an emphasis on the so-called “special” relationship with Britain. He’ll also attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics and meet with athletes, which political observers expect to be a moment to highlight his leadership and work running the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
The presumptive Republican nominee prefaced the trip with a speech in Nevada at a conference of the VFW, saying, “I am not ashamed of American power. I take pride that throughout history our power has brought justice where there was tyranny, peace where there was conflict and hope where there was affliction and despair.” He was making an apparent reference to Obama’s 2009 foreign trip, which critics dubbed as an “apology tour” of American strength.
Romney starts his day Thursday meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.
He then heads to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, the leader of the opposition party and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Romney has been friends with Netanyahu since the 1970s, when both were in Boston and recruited by the same consulting firm.
Iran is expected to be the main issue the two will talk about, and the Obama campaign in particular will be watching to see if Romney definitively calls for any military action. Netanyahu's and Obama's relationship has been somewhat tenser, so this could be a chance for Romney to appear a stronger ally to Israel.
Netanyahu was cautious about wading into American politics, telling Fox News on Sunday, “I will receive Mitt Romney with the same openness that I received another presidential candidate, then-Senator Barack Obama, when he came almost four years ago, almost the same time in the campaign, to Israel.”
The prime minister has asserted Israel's right to pursue military action to handle Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and Romney has said he doesn’t think Obama has done enough to back Israel's right to defend itself. In December at a GOP debate, Romney said, “I'd get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say, ‘Would it help if I say this? What would you like me to do’?”
Romney will give remarks in Israel before heading to Poland, where he’ll also give a speech. Those are the only two formal remarks expected.
In contrast, Obama gave a major speech titled “A World That Stands as One” in Germany to 200,000 cheering people in front of the Victory Column in Berlin's Tiergarten Park. He also gave several press conferences on his foreign swing and interviews with all three major broadcast networks, who flew out to sit down with him.
Romney will also do some interviews but will not be giving any press conferences.
Obama was criticized for the length of his trip, with some saying he was running for president of the world instead of the United States. He started his trip visiting troops and commanders in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq and benefited from Prime Minister Nuri al-Malaki endorsing his Iraqi troop withdrawal plan ahead of his trip. Of course, the trip came while the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were still a front-and-center political issue, while now the campaign is mostly about the economy.
Romney will round out his trip in Poland, visiting the historic port city of Gdansk and then to Warsaw. He’s expected to highlight Poland as an example of economic and Democratic values. It also can’t be overlooked that making Poland a star is setting up Romney’s positioning and comparison to Russia, which Romney once called the United States’ biggest foe.
Romney is not expected to make any major policy announcements on this tour and will stick to focusing on listening to other world leaders.
He’s also holding fundraisers in London and Jerusalem. Obama did not raise cash on his trip, but the Romney campaign was quick to point out Obama still used his foreign trip as a tool to ask for cash, asking for donations online after his Berlin speech.