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The Blunderer in Chief

COMMENTARYHe came, he saw, he imploded.And now Mitt Romney has left London quicker than Tyson Gay or Usain Bolt will explode out of their blocks in the 100 mete


by Martin Bashir

He came, he saw, he imploded.

And now Mitt Romney has left London quicker than Tyson Gay or Usain Bolt will explode out of their blocks in the 100 meters.

But although the Republican Party's presumptive nominee spent just a few short hours in the United Kingdom's capital city, he may well come to rue the day that he decided to accompany his wife Ann, and her horse, on their trip to the Olympics. Because while his campaign in the United States is embellished, defended and refined by the support of right wing media, billionaire backers and relentlessly negative attacks on the President, in London it was just Mitt— pure and simple. And it was calamitous.

Plenty of commentators have remarked upon Mr Romney being tone deaf when it comes to the circumstances of ordinary Americans.  But he appears to be blind, too.

It was during an interview with my colleague Brian Williams that Mr Romney chose to adopt the traditionally British approach of cynicism and pessimism toward the London Olympic Games. Yet he did so at the very moment when British politicians and Olympic organizers were seeking to dress themselves in American optimism. But poor Mr Romney just couldn't see it.

In discussing the prospects for a successful Olympic Games in London, he told Brian Williams that "It's hard to know just how well it will turn out", and referred to problems with security staffing and the threat of potential public sector strikes. He sounded British at the very moment when the British wanted to sound like Americans: upbeat, enthusiastic and determined to succeed.

And in case you're tempted to think that this was of little importance, you should keep in mind that the politicians who reacted immediately and angrily are normally the Republican Party's closest British friends. Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson are both lifelong members of the Conservative Party. Mr. Cameron has actually enacted the very policies that Mr Romney espouses. He has gutted the public sector, brutally cut back on social welfare programs and the result is a double dip recession and a 0.7% decline in output over the last three months.

Yet such was their anger at Mr. Romney's cynicism that the Prime Minister ignored their shared political philosophy and offered a withering riposte, suggesting that Mr. Romney's stewardship of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics was "in the middle of nowhere".  Boris Johnson, meanwhile, mocked him as some bloke out of nowhere. "I hear there's a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we're ready?" he told a crowd of 60.000 in Hyde Park, offering neither the prefix of 'Governor' nor even 'Republican Presidential nominee.' Mr Romney was chastised by two of the most senior Conservative politicians in Britain.


In trying to understand Mr. Romney's disastrous day in London, it's tempting to believe that this was just the latest example of him pandering to an audience. Having arrived in the UK, he may have calculated that the best way to get along with the Brits was to assume the British affect of pessimism. Just as he couldn't stop talking about "cheesy grits" as he campaigned through Mississippi earlier this year, so he decided to ape the perceived persona of those he was meeting.

But it's actually a much deeper problem than mere pandering.

Mr. Romney keeps crashing into the present because he's running away from his past.  And he runs at such speed because he regards his personal biography as a towering inferno. A fire that will burn his political ambitions to the ground.

Just consider how he treats his own past.  As his tenure as Governor of Massachusetts drew to a close, he along with others paid thousands of dollars to purchase the hard drives of computers so that none of their correspondence or activities would ever be accessible for posterity. His record as Governor, in economic terms, was unproductive and unimpressive and his only significant achievement is the one thing that he cannot talk about: the reform of health care in the State that became the prototype for the President's Affordable Care Act. So he doesn't talk about Massachusetts.

He can't say too much about his leadership of the Salt Lake Winter Olympics because he relied heavily upon federal support, did not oversee a stellar games and the entire process was beset by allegations of corruption with at least eight I.O.C members apparently offered land, jobs for relatives, even cash for their support. No charges were brought. But it means he can say little about the Olympics.

He had thought that he could build his entire political appeal on his experience in private equity but this has been saturated in charges of outsourcing jobs and off-shoring his income. So Bain is now a chronic pain.

He can't even talk about his personal faith because Mormonism is at variance with orthodox Christianity and this week a number of Christians protested against his visit to London. One protester held a large banner that read: 'Mitt Romney says Jesus is the devil's brother.  Christianity says Jesus is the Lord of Glory.' He really does not want to engage in theological discussions about the baptism of the deceased or whether Mormonism contains a virulent strain of racism, which precluded blacks from holding office within the organization for more than a century. Again, he is silent on the fundamental principles that have determined his life.

And this is why Mitt Romney has been described by Britain's national press as a blundering fool. This is why he arrived in London and immediately insulted the British Olympic Committee and the British government's handling of the Games. It is because he cannot talk about himself and he lacks the insight required to talk about others. His brief visit became the reverse of Dale Carnegie's most famous work, a revised version by Mr Romney: 'How to Lose Friends and Influence Nobody'.

In many ways, he's reminiscent of the great imposters of history. He has no past that he speaks of—only the ambitions he has for the future. But that's hardly surprising.  Because when an individual is at war with his own biography, what is there left for him to discuss?