Romney’s Comments in Israel Overshadow Visit to Poland

BY Terence Burlij and Katelyn Polantz  July 31, 2012 at 9:29 AM EST

Mitt Romney; photo by Janek Skarzynski/AFP/GettyImages

Mitt Romney gives a speech Tuesday at the University of Warsaw. Photo Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Suffice it to say Mitt Romney’s overseas tour has not gone exactly to plan.

First, there was the controversy over his comments about London’s preparedness for the Olympic Games and sharing with reporters that he had met with the head of Britain’s intelligence agency, something typically not made public.

And now, remarks he made in Israel have overshadowed his visit to Poland, where on Tuesday he delivered a major foreign policy speech in Warsaw praising the friendship between the United States and the Eastern European nation.

“I believe it is critical to stand by those who have stood by America. Solidarity was a great movement that freed a nation. And it is with solidarity that America and Poland face the future,” Romney said.

But the GOP hopeful caused a stir Monday when he suggested to a group of Jewish donors in Jerusalem that the reason the Israelis have had greater economic success than the Palestinians was in part because of cultural differences.

“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita for instance in Israel which is about 21,000 dollars and you compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority which is more like 10,000 dollars per capita you notice a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality,” Romney said. “And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States,” he added.

Romney said that David Landes’ book “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations” has influenced his thinking about the differences between nations.

“Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said of the conclusion he drew from the work. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,” he added.

Palestinian leaders expressed outrage over the comments. “Palestinians and Israelis may be in conflict, but Palestinians and Israelis are people, equal. And such racist statements do not make — does not serve those who are trying to protect and save lives in this region,” said Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Obama administration took note of the kerfuffle with deputy press secretary Josh Earnest weighing in during Monday’s daily briefing at the White House.

“One of the challenges of being an actor on the international stage, particularly when you’re traveling to such a sensitive part of the world, is that your comments are very closely scrutinized for meaning, for nuance, for motivation,” Earnest said. “And it is clear that there are some people who have taken a look at those comments and are scratching their heads a little bit.”

Obama campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki charged that Romney’s performance in Britain and now Israel “raise some questions about his preparedness.” She said the Republican has been “fumbling the foreign policy football from country to country.”

For its part, the Romney campaign argued that the candidate’s statement had been “grossly mischaracterized.”

While the headlines have not been good for Romney, the impact of the series of missteps is unclear. With July’s jobs numbers looming, a disappointing report could provide Romney with surer footing on domestic soil.

THE JEWISH VOTE

The NewsHour looked closer at the candidate’s visit to Israel and appeals to Jewish voters on Monday’s program.

Watch this first, as we reported on the trip and the political climate among American Jews. Of particular note are those Gallup poll numbers from June, showing President Obama’s still heavy but slipping support among Jewish voters, with 64 percent to Romney’s 29 percent support.

We're sorry, the rights for this video have expired.

An updated survey released days before Romney traveled to Israel had him down four percentage points, at 25 percent and with Mr. Obama at 68 percent. We’ll be interested to see how Romney’s more recent comments affect those numbers.

Both of these poll results are a far cry from the 78 percent support Mr. Obama clocked during his 2008 campaign against Sen. John McCain.

So why the changes in support? In the video above, a Jewish voter in Florida expresses unhappiness that the president hasn’t visited Israel during his first term.

Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street and Noah Pollak of the Emergency Committee for Israel brought additional insight to the NewsHour.

Ben-Ami predicted a long fallout from Romney’s comments.

“‘I’m sure he got a few very useful photo-ops for commercials down the road. But in terms of the substance of the trip, I don’t think there was much that he’s going to be able to write home about,” he said.

But Pollak, whose organization funded an attack ad on the president’s lack of a visit to Israel, said the trip may serve the Republican candidate well by revealing his difference in approach from the president. Mr. Obama has in effect snubbed Israel as a way to gain favor with Arab nations, Pollak said.

Both pointed out the relatively small percentage of Jews among all voters, though Pollak mused that Florida could be the president’s downfall.

“You could imagine a scenario in which Florida came down to a closeness like it did in 2000, when it was decided by a few hundred or a few thousand votes,” he said. “And that you could imagine after the election people parsing all the numbers and determining that Obama’s decline in support among the Jewish vote cost him Florida.”

That’s unlikely, he added.

Watch the segment here or below:

While researching this story, we came across the official Jewish Americans for Obama page, which includes two web videos that lay claim to flattering comments about Mr. Obama from Israeli President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The second, “Steadfast,” features a speech from the president set to soaring music and clocking in at more than eight minutes long.

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • Here comes Romney’s veep announcement, in an app. Yahoo! News reports it’s coming “soon.”

  • The Romney campaign is out with a new TV ad, “Believe in Our Future,” which depicts the candidate as a successful entrepreneur and Olympics savior.

  • Univision reports that Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, will deliver the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. He will be the first Hispanic American to do so.

  • The Washington Blade reports that for the first time the Democratic Party will include marriage equality in its platform at the upcoming convention in Charlotte, N.C.

  • Polish supporters of Texas GOP Rep. Ron Paul welcomed Mitt Romney to Gdansk on Monday.

  • Fox’s Greta Van Susteren blogged that she thinks Romney did not allow the press enough access during his trip.

  • The headline of this Huffington Post piece says it all: “Mitt Romney Ohio Ad Stars Business Owner Who Relied Heavily On Government Contracts.”

  • New York Times columnist and NewsHour regular David Brooks dubs the contest between President Obama and Romney the “Dullest Campaign Ever”.

  • Rep. Paul may not still be formally campaigning for the presidency, but his team continues to raise money and prep for the Republican National Convention.

  • The Associated Press reports that the president’s environmental regulations and other federal policies have been delayed because of election year politics.

  • The Morning Line hears that Vice President Joe Biden went to campaign headquarters in Chicago on Monday, stood on desk and gave pep talk using a mic.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • Texas Republicans will select a U.S. Senate nominee Tuesday in a runoff race between Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former state solicitor general Ted Cruz. Roll Call notes dueling polls ahead of the contest, though Cruz seems to have momentum and national support on his side.

  • In a surprise move, Ohio Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette will not seek re-election. The Columbus Dispatch reported it was “because of a dispute with House leadership about future committee assignments.”

  • The Pew Research Center found the shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., has not shifted public views of gun control. Forty-seven percent of those surveyed said it is more important to control gun ownership, while 46 percent favored protecting the rights of Americans to own guns.

  • The Boston Globe’s Glen Johnson reports that Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren will speak in a headlining role before former President Bill Clinton on the Wednesday evening of the Democratic Convention.

  • Speaking of Clinton, check out his recent approval ratings from Gallup.

  • Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s record as state attorney general falls under more scrutiny in Tuesday’s New York Times.

  • John Stanton of BuzzFeed interviewed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., about his hopes to reclaim the majority and his views of the media.

  • New York GOP Rep. Richard Hanna told a newspaper editorial board that his own party bends to its most extreme members. “I have to say that I’m frustrated by how much we — I mean the Republican Party — are willing to give deferential treatment to our extremes in this moment in history,” he said.

  • With the Farm Bill stuck in the mud, GOP leaders are looking for bipartisan support, writes Roll Call’s Daniel Newhauser.

  • The Associated Press reports, “Arizona’s ban on abortions starting at 20 weeks of pregnancy is poised to take effect this week as scheduled after a federal judge ruled Monday that the new law is constitutional.”

  • Ouch! A Daily Kos/SEIU State of the Nation poll of 1,000 registered voters being released Tuesday found that 78 percent have an unfavorable opinion of the political media and just 10 percent have a favorable opinion.

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Mitt Romney is in Warsaw, Poland, where he participates in a photo spray with Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski at 2:50 a.m., lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at 3:20 a.m. and delivers foreign policy remarks at 6:15 a.m. He also visits the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes at 7:50 a.m. and the Memorial of the Warsaw Uprising at 8:20 a.m.

  • President Obama has no scheduled public events scheduled.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah, @meenaganesan and @abbruns.