Republican presidential candidates seem to consistently get themselves into trouble when they embark on high-profile trips to London. This phenomenon has led some to wonder whether Republican presidential candidates should simply refrain from traveling to the British capital at all.
“What about your gaffes?” an American reporter famously shrieked at Mitt Romney, callously disturbing the solemnity that should characterize any visit to a war memorial for Polish dead. Nevertheless, the press felt that it was of more value in this moment to berate the Republican presidential candidate for the offenses he supposedly committed in London, prompting one of Romney’s aides to tell reporters to “shove it” and “show some respect.” Thus, another “gaffe” was born.
All those many supposed “gaffes” in London were, of course, inventions of the media in the first place. The incident which so inflamed the press was Romney’s decision to echo the concerns shared by many Londoners that the city was ill-prepared to host the 2012 Olympics. By simply reiterating the concerns expressed in the British press, that the Olympics had devolved into an “omnishambles” (a term originally coined by a British television program and applied to myriad Westminster foul-ups), led the U.K. tabloids and their American counterparts to dub Romney’s offenses “Romneyshambles.” For the British, Romney’s comment provided them with a convenient way to indulge in nationalist pride and deflect criticism away of local authorities. For the American media, the “gaffe” was an invaluable opportunity to criticize Barack Obama’s challenger.
True to form, the political press has not passed up any chances to sharply criticize Republicans who stumble into rhetorical missteps while touring the British capital. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie invited deserved criticism when he asserted that public policy relating to vaccinating children should be “balanced.” Though his comment reflected nearly all state and federal-level public policy regarding vaccination, the health risks posed by unvaccinated children are grave enough to criticize public officials who provide any legitimacy to the anti-vaccination movement. There was, however, little “balance” in the media’s criticism of the Garden State governor. Christie’s comment inspired predictable hyperventilation among members of the press corps who jumped on the opportunity to resurrect “Romneyshambles” ahead of 2016.
The media’s reaction led some to suspect that the likely Republican candidate would have been criticized by the American press no matter what he said on British soil. On Thursday, NBC News confirmed that this impression is accurate.
“In London yesterday, Scott Walker not only punted when he got a question on evolution. He also punted on questions regarding ISIS and 2016,” read a dispatch via NBC News’s First Read team.
Walker aggravated the press when he decided to “punt” when asked whether or not he believed in the theory of evolution, saying that it was not the place of a politician to weigh in on a controversial topic that has no relevance to public policy. In that interview, though, Walker also punted on a variety of other issues relating to the conduct of America’s foreign affairs. He likely did so in deference to the American tradition of refusing to criticize the President of the United States while abroad. NBC News determined that Walker was “OVER-LEARNING” (yes, all caps) the lesson Christie was taught following his rhetorical misstep.
“But here’s the thing: The old rule is that an American politician doesn’t criticize his/her president while on foreign soil,” the NBC News report read. “It’s not that a politician should REFUSE to answer any political questions while overseas. This only exposes a weakness for Walker right now: foreign policy.”
Save for an unequivocal expression of support for President Barack Obama’s handling of America’s foreign affairs, Walker would have been damned no matter what he said.
What’s striking about this claim is the suggestion that Walker’s lack of a record on foreign policy is a weakness. If it is, then it is one shared by every prospective Republican candidate – including legislators who served on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee – when compared to their likely Democratic opponent. But a true weakness on foreign policy would be to have only a record of failure to show after serving as a practitioner of diplomacy for four years.
A foreign policy weakness would be handing a “reset” button to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, symbolic of a policy of renewed engagement, and surveying the deadly and destabilizing results of that disastrous approach to Russo-American relations today. A foreign policy weakness would be examining the Obama administration’s “success stories” in places like Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Burma and toiling in vain to determine how American interests were advanced in these places from 2009 to 2013. A foreign policy weakness is being incapable of naming even a single enduring accomplishment while you served as America’s chief diplomat. That’s a record of failure when it comes to foreign policy. And that’s the record Hillary Clinton and her admirers in the media will be forced to defend.
“Republicans shouldn’t go to London,” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It provides the political press with undue deference. NBC News’s unconcealed admission that Walker couldn’t win with them no matter what he said in London is an indication of how difficult it will be for the Republican challenger to Hillary Clinton in 2016 to get a fair hearing from the press, no matter who that ends up being.