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SPOTLIGHT
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Amazingly, Romney does it again

Published on -8/2/2012, 10:23 AM

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Last spring, when he was ever so carefully seeking the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney's scripted, straight-from-the-briefing-book style made him a favorite of the comedians on "Saturday Night Live." On the other hand, when he went off script -- the Cadillacs and the NASCAR owners -- it was even worse. That's when Democrats were giving each other high-fives and thinking about the new drapes in the White House.

Then the fight ended, and Romney proved his incredible efficiency in picking up cash, and the economic recovery didn't feel like a recovery at all, and we started wringing our hands.

Now, Romney is on the road again, and his handlers must be wringing their hands and wishing he would stick to that script, after all, even if it's an SNL joke.

Going abroad made perfect sense. Massachusetts governors need to do something to prove they have credibility on foreign policy -- and not to win points on the issue but to try to neutralize the negative in advance. Voters are certainly focused on the economy, but they're not willing to risk international havoc for what might be a marginal improvement, if any.

Going to Israel made even more sense, given that Barack Obama hasn't been there in his nearly four years as president, leading many to question whether his definition of "evenhandedness" (a term that got him into a lot of trouble in the campaign) is another way of saying he doesn't share the strong commitment to Israel that many voters -- and not only those in the Jewish community -- do.

So it all made perfect sense -- on paper.

And then Romney went off script.

In London, the former head of the Salt Lake City Olympics blurted out that maybe London hadn't done enough to prepare for the Games. That comment might make him look smart in the long run if something goes wrong (sort of like predicting a terrorist attack), but in the short run, it mightily angered our excellent allies, making him look pretty awful when it comes to diplomacy.

And then he ducked out before watching his wife's horse compete, which led everyone to write at least as many stories about his ducking out as they would have about his attending with his attractive and popular wife.

Afterward, it was on to Israel, where he scored some points among voters back home by pledging his strong support of Israel and its right to take action against Iran.

Now, there were certainly many, including many in the Palestinian community and some in the diplomatic world, who might argue that doing so would not make it easier for him to negotiate peace in that troubled region. But that kind of argument doesn't move the polls or open pocketbooks the way support for Israel does.

And then he did it again. Romney's schedulers were smart enough to add a Sunday meeting with Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, during which the press got to see the two men make small talk about the London Olympics. (Ouch, but just a little ouch.)

And then he did it again. Clearly going off script, Romney reportedly told a group of heavy-hitting donors that the reason the Palestinians are so much worse off than the Israelis (but not as bad off as they really are) is cultural differences. "Culture makes all the difference," he reportedly said. "As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality."

Sheesh. I am one of those strong supporters of the state of Israel who wishes Obama would at least make a quick stop. But even I know that first there are some pretty serious trade restrictions that contribute to the failing status of the Palestinian economy, and that the disparity is closer to 10 to 1 than 2 to 1.

Palestinian leaders are calling him a "racist."

But the real problem for him, back home at least, may not be accusations of racism, but the realization that this guy is just not ready for prime time, much less the presidency.

Susan Estrich is a columnist, commentator and law and political science professor at USC.

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