A Funny Thing Happened to Mitt Romney on the Way to Israel

After his Olympian snafu in London, Romney’s main aim is no longer to court Jews, but to avoid further controversy.

The splendid anarchy that marked the opening ceremony of the London Olympics only strengthened Mitt Romney’s credentials among dedicated Republican conservatives. If Great Britain chooses to place such detested socialistic symbols as trade unions or National Health Service on its once-in-a-lifetime pedestal, then it deserves all the put-downs that Mitt Romney presciently hurled at the Brits on the eve of his journey abroad.

But all the supportive tweets and encouraging blogs with which Romney supporters have swamped the social media world won’t suffice to offset the overall damage inflicted on Romney’s reputation by a few imprudent remarks that turned him into Britain’s public enemy number one and provided the famously vicious English press with a handy punching bag.

As a direct result of his hapless British sojourn, Romney’s visit to Israel has assumed critical importance, but its main objective has changed: this is no longer about campaigning for American Jewish votes or bolstering Evangelical support; Romney’s main effort is now aimed at preventing any further mishaps that might cause the Republican candidate irreparable harm.

In and of themselves, Romney’s gaffes in Great Britain are nowhere near the kind of strategic disasters that have derailed presidential campaigns in the past. This is not Republican President Gerald Ford declaring to a dumbfounded America that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe” in 1976, it doesn’t rival Democrat Michael Dukakis lampooning himself to oblivion by posing in a tank in 1988, and it is clearly bested by John Kerry’s 2004 declaration about an $87 billion defense allocation that “I voted for it before I voted against it”.

Most Americans, in fact, are likely to quickly forgive or forget any Romney slights against those snooty European Brits, even if they are “fellow Anglo-Saxons”, as a Romney aide explained on the eve of his visit.

But another serious mishap, either in Israel, where he arrived on Saturday night, or in Poland, which he will visit on Monday, might suggest a pattern that could paint Romney as a “serial bungler”, the tag which the Economist magazine attached to Romney’s host, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in a cover story 15 years ago.

Romney is therefore hoping for a dignified reception in Israel and a warm welcome from his hosts that will bestow that coveted but elusive Roman virtue of gravitas on his public image. That was his original intention, after all, when he carefully chose a venue that included three countries in which the governments are run by right-wing or center-right politicians who are none too enthusiastic about President Obama’s foreign policy. The plan for Romney’s very presence to speak volumes for itself and thus create the necessary contrast to the current administration, without the need for Romney to contravene the unwritten rule that American politicians do not criticize their president while travelling abroad.

Reading Romney’s gambit, Obama’s wily campaign managers orchestrated – by complete coincidence, of course – the Friday ceremony at the White House in which the President signed the US-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act and allocated another $70 million to Israel’s Iron Dome missile system. Israeli representatives as well as the leaders of AIPAC and other Jewish groups had no choice but to praise Obama’s ongoing “commitment to Israel’s security”, which sort of contradicts Romney’s insistence that the President habitually “throws Israel under the bus.”

In any case, a new Gallup poll released on Friday should temper Republican expectations for a major shift in Jewish voting patterns in the November elections. With three and a half months left to go, American Jews prefer Obama over Romney by a margin of almost three to one, and any shift towards the Republicans, at this time, appears to be marginal, at best. Given the mayhem that he left behind him in London, it’s small wonder that what Romney wants more than anything else, as ET used to say, is to go home.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev.