LONDON—Mitt Romney has built his 2012 campaign almost entirely around his criticism of President Barack Obama's handling of the economy. But this week, he'll seek to add another dimension to the case for why voters should elect him this fall, kicking off a seven-day overseas trip that aims to prove he's capable of handling international affairs.
Romney is scheduled to arrive in London on Wednesday on the first leg of a three-country tour that his advisers are billing as an opportunity for the presumptive Republican nominee to "learn and listen" to close allies to the United States. On Saturday, he'll travel to Israel, before wrapping up his journey in Poland next week.
The trip offers a rare chance for Romney to exhibit his foreign policy credentials, which generally have been considered a weak spot on his resume. He'll also attend the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics on Friday. The hope is that his appearance will remind voters of his turnaround of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, games that were mired in scandal and a financial crisis before Romney came along.
But Romney's overseas swing isn't without potential risks. His tour will likely be compared to the foreign trip Obama took during the 2008 campaign where he visited several countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan. In Germany, hundreds of thousands of people turned out to hear the then-Democratic nominee speak at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate—a reception that Romney is unlikely to get on his current trip.
Romney aides have sought to distance their candidate's visit from Obama's tour in 2008. At the same time, they have lowered expectations about what exactly Romney will do on his overseas jaunt—a move that could potentially backfire since the presumptive Republican nominee has been criticized for not offering clearer details about how his policies would differ from Obama's.
In a conference call with reporters last week, Romney's policy director Lanhee Chen insisted the candidate views his trip as a chance to meet face-to-face with close U.S. allies, emphasizing Romney's argument that the U.S. should be "locking arms" with those friends and listening to their concerns.
"This trip is really an opportunity for the governor to learn and listen," Chen said. "There are a number of different challenges that the world faces today, and it's an opportunity for him to visit three countries that have a strong and important relationship with the United States."
The three countries Romney will visit are "pillars of liberty and fought through periods where liberty was under siege," Chen told reporters. The candidate's trip, he said, will allow the campaign 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."
Chen said Romney would use the trip to emphasize foreign policy positions he's already staked out, rather than offer new ideas--a move that the Obama campaign already has criticized, calling on Romney to offer more than just "sound bites" of what he thinks about foreign policy issues. But the Romney campaign has signaled no change in their plans for the trip.