Romney's foreign trip ends, but will memories linger?

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at the University of Warsaw Library in Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday, July 31, 2012. AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Romney wraps up overseas trip with speech in Poland
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at the University of Warsaw Library in Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday, July 31, 2012.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
(CBS News) Unlike several of his former rivals for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney has rarely blamed the media when things haven't gone his way.

But at the end of a weeklong international tour dominated by negative headlines, Romney expressed exasperation with how the press covered his trip.

"I realize that there will be some in the Fourth Estate, or whichever estate, who are far more interested in finding something to write about that is unrelated to the economy, to geopolitics, to the threat of war, to the reality of conflict in Afghanistan today, to a nuclearization of Iran," Romney told Carl Cameron of Fox News. "They'll instead try and find anything else to divert from the fact that these last four years have been tough years for our country."

(Audio of Romney aide losing cool with press in Poland.)

Romney's relatively mild censure came on a day when much of the media was fixated on a volatile exchange between a campaign aide and members of the traveling press corps, who covered the Republican's three-nation jaunt with only minimal access to the candidate.

In Warsaw, traveling press secretary Rick Gorka responded testily when reporters shouted questions at Romney as he visited the Polish tomb of the unknown soldier.

"Kiss my ass; this is a holy site for the Polish people," Gorka said in a remark that stood out for being as paradoxical as it was colorful. "Show some respect."

Gorka later apologized personally to a pair of journalists, according to Politico, but the cable and online news outlets couldn't resist playing up the spat, which seemed to sum up the frustrations that had boiled over -- on both sides -- after a trip that the campaign designed to be tightly controlled yet instead stumbled repeatedly into controversy.

Romney's own attempt to explain away a contentious remark he made at a fundraiser in Israel about the economic dynamic in the Middle East did not do much to resolve the issue.

The presumptive GOP nominee had infuriated Palestinian leaders when he appeared to suggest that cultural differences were responsible for the wide disparity in economic vitality among bordering nations, including the gulf that exists between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

(Watch a clip of Romney's speech in Israel in the video on the left.)

"I did not speak about the Palestinian culture or the decisions made in their economy," Romney said later on Fox News. "That's an interesting topic that perhaps could deserve scholarly analysis, but I actually didn't address that."

A transcript of his remarks at the Jerusalem fundraiser confirmed that Romney did indeed reference culture as a factor that makes "all the difference" in the economic well-being of various nations and that he specifically cited the disparity in wealth between Israelis and Palestinians to help make his case.

The Obama campaign moved on Tuesday to bolster the impression that Romney's trip had been a fiasco.

Senior adviser Robert Gibbs alluded to Romney's questioning of the preparedness of the U.K. to host the Olympic Games and the Republican's remarks on the role of culture in the Middle East by noting that he "offended our closest ally" and "triggered a troubling reaction in the most sensitive region of the world."

"He certainly didn't prove to anyone that he passed the commander-in-chief test," Gibbs said. "Governor Romney showed on this trip that he might not have the discipline to handle those delicate diplomatic interactions that are required for a president of the United States. Romney was auditioning to be the leader of the free world, and it's clear he was simply unable to represent America on the world stage."

Despite Romney advisers' insistence that the trip was an overall success, there is no doubt that there were more distractions than they had expected for an expedition intended to present images of an unflappable potential world leader.

In the long run, however, the political consequences of the noise surrounding this foreign foray might be minimal.

For one thing, the Romney campaign's contentious relationship with its traveling press corps is far from a new phenomenon in general election settings, in which tensions typically run high during the summer doldrums just before the final post-convention push.

(Watch the White House's assessment of Romney's trip in video on the left.)

It was just about this time four years ago, after all, when members of the press corps covering both the Obama and John McCain campaigns began to complain more frequently about their diminishing level of access to the candidates.

While Romney received some significant negative coverage during his trip, he also got helpful headlines and photographs in major U.S. newspapers during his stops in Israel and Poland and won particularly high marks from foreign policy hawks within his party for his aggressive speeches in both nations.

In a nod to Romney's efforts to fully embrace the concept of American exceptionalism on the international stage, the Republican National Committee released a tongue-in-cheek document on Tuesday titled "Foreign Leaders That Won't Be Tweeted by Chicago."

The document highlighted critical reaction to Romney's remarks on the trip from leaders of Iran, China, and the Palestinian Authority and pointed to comments supportive of Obama that have been made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

Romney also raised over $3 million, total, at fundraisers attended by American citizens in the U.K. and Israel, turning his foreign tour into yet another way to bolster his campaign's already overflowing coffers.

CNN reported on Tuesday that the campaign is planning a major four-day bus tour through key swing states in the middle of August -- a trip that could serve as a high-profile rollout for his vice-presidential pick ahead of the Republican National Convention at the end of the month.

As the narrative of the race turns back to the economy -- the issue of much greater importance to Americans than Romney's view of London's preparation for the Olympics -- Romney's overseas foray likely will soon be far in the rearview mirrors of swing voters.

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.

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