The Obama campaign is keeping a watchful eye on Mitt Romney as he heads overseas on a six-day international tour — a display of potential statesmanship that also contains a number of risks.
“I think this trip should be judged on the type of substantive ideas that Mitt Romney outlines,” said Robert Gibbs, a senior campaign advisor for the president. “And, whether he would continue to the proven policies of President Obama or return us to a time in which our foreign policy was a sore spot in the world. The American people deserve to know.”
Campaign and administration officials spoke to reporters in a conference call on Monday.
Romney is scheduled to visit Great Britain, Poland and Israel. The trip mirrors a similar trip by Obama in 2008.
“The question for Gov. Romney is … will this trip live up to the bar that was set in 2008,” Gibbs said. “Or, whether this is one long photo-op and fundraising tour.”
For Romney, the trip is a chance to demonstrate competence in settings often occupied by presidents. He’ll hold formal meetings with foreign leaders, give public speeches and visit historic sites.
Aides say it’s a chance for the candidate to forge links with strong U.S. allies and show that he’ll stand up for shared values.
“This trip is an opportunity for us to demonstrate a clear and resolute stand with nations that share our values and possess the fortitude to defend those values in the name of a more peaceful world,” Lanhee Chen, Romney’s policy director, told the Associated Press.
The centerpiece of the trip is a visit to Israel on July 28, where he meets with top leaders who are closing in on a critical decision about whether to launch a military strike on Iran that is opposed by the Obama administration.
Israel is just one of the areas where Romney has drawn sharp contrasts with Obama without always outlining a clear alternative. He’s done that with a series of international events, including a crisis over Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng and a hot-mic comment Obama made to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
But Romney’s advisers said he plans to be careful not to be seen obviously attacking the president while overseas, following a longstanding tradition that U.S. politicians don’t criticize their country’s leader while abroad.
“The contrasts will be kept here in the States,” said Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman.
Romney advisers say he’ll steer clear of outlining specific policy proposals in those addresses.
Officials with the Obama campaign said they hope Romney does outline his planned policies.
“If Romney wants to be president, if he’s ready to be commander-in-chief, he needs to prove that he’s willing to have open and honest discussions about his world view, about his beliefs, about his policies,” said Michele Flournoy, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.
Throughout the trip, Romney will face inevitable comparisons with Obama, whose overseas trip to seven countries during the 2008 campaign culminated with a speech to an audience of 200,000 at the Victory Column in Berlin.
At his first stop, in London, Romney plans meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Ed Miliband, who leads the opposition Labour Party. He plans fundraisers, where attendees will likely include bankers and others from London’s financial sector.
The Olympics, kicking off July 27 in London, could also offer Romney opportunities for additional meetings with foreign leaders, many of whom will be there for the beginning of the games. Romney plans to attend the Olympic opening ceremonies and some of the early competitions. Romney isn’t part of the official U.S. presence at the international competition. First lady Michelle Obama will lead the U.S. delegation.
In Poland, Romney will visit a deeply Roman Catholic country that for years has favored Republicans over Democrats. The visit, campaign officials said, comes at the invitation of Lech Walesa, the Polish labor leader who co-founded the Solidarity movement and served as Poland’s president during the country’s transition out of communism. Romney will meet with Walesa in the Solidarity birthplace, Gdansk, and also hold meetings in Warsaw.