Mitt’s First Foreign Stumble?

It’s treacherous for a US presidential candidate to travel overseas — lots of opportunities for mis-chosen words and getting drawn into other countries’ domestic politics. With Mitt Romney about to leave on his big trip abroad he may already have had his first big foreign stumble. At a GOP fundraiser in San Francisco last night, Romney said that Australia’s foreign minister had warned him that foreign leaders see the US in decline and — at least in Romney’s telling — was hoping for Romney-like policies to make things right.That at least was the version of the comments that appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald. A similar version, but without the full quotes, appeared in the AP.

Quoting Romney: ”And this idea of America in decline, it was interesting [Carr] said that, he led the talk of America being in decline. See that’s not talk we hear about here as much as they’re hearing there. And if they’re thinking about investing in America, entrepreneurs putting their future in America, if they think America’s in decline they’re not gonna do it.”

Whether or not the SMH got it right is one question. The Hill notes that the pool reports did not have Romney clearly characterizing the comments as a warning.

And now, Australia’s Foreign Minister’s office has come forward to shoot down Romney’s characterization of the discussion, calling Romney’s interpretation “not correct.”

You cannot take a shoot down like this at face value in any case. Whatever Carr said, he almost certainly didn’t expect Romney to turn around and use it as ammo in a political speech. Allies don’t want to get publicly embroiled in a US election — especially on the wrong side of an incumbent who they believe is more likely than not to get reelected. So he’d be under a lot of pressure to walk away from Romney’s comments, even if Romney was accurately characterizing them. On the other hand, maybe Mitt just made it up or gave it — probably the most likely option — a negative spin the retelling. One way or another, it will be interesting to see how Romney navigates this sort of stuff when he’s overseas.