Mitt Romney went into full-blown damage control mode across the pond after he was rebuked by British leaders for questioning whether Britain will be able to stage the Olympic Games effectively.
Romney caused an international stir during a Wednesday interview when he questioned London’s ability to host the games, saying: ‘It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out.’
But on Thursday, after a morning of meetings with top British officials – including Prime Minister David Cameron – Romney made a complete about-face on his remarks, saying he believes the Olympics will be ‘successful.’
That declaration came after Cameron challenged Romney and other critics during an appearance in Olympic Park, when he said: ‘You’re going to see beyond doubt that Britain can deliver.’
On Wednesday, Romney told NBC’s Brian Williams that ‘disconcerting’ events surrounding Olympics preparations mean ‘it’s hard to know just how well it will turn out.’
He continued: ‘There are a few things that were disconcerting, the stories about the – private security firm not having enough people the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging.
‘Because in the games, there are three parts that makes games successful. Number one, of course, are the athletes. That’s what overwhelmingly the games are about. Number two are the volunteers.
‘And they’ll have great volunteers here. But number three are the people of the – of the country. Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? And that’s something which we only find out once the games actually begin.’
But Romney began to distance himself from the comments after speaking with Labour Party boss Ed Miliband.
Following their encounter at the Houses of Parliament, Romney said: ‘As the sporting events begin, we all forget the organisers and focus on the athletes.’
But it wasn’t until after the sit-down with Cameron at 10 Downing Street, when Romney completed the 180-degree turn, declaring: ‘I expect the games to be highly successful.’
Romney would know, as he managed the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
The 2012 Olympics has been dogged with concerns ever since private security firm G4S said it would have to provide thousands fewer staff than they originally promised.
The British government has been forced to call in thousands of members of the armed forces – many of whom have just returned from Afghanistan – to plug the gaps.
There has also been problems with Border Agency staff threatening to go on strike during the Games, although such action was called off yesterday.
The following morning, however, he struck a more upbeat tone as he spoke at the Houses of Parliament with Miliband, whom he addressed awkwardly as ‘Mr Leader.’
As Romney met with Miliband at Westminister, he was asked by the British media about Olympic security issues and the error over the North Korean team flag, in which the country’s women’s soccer team refused to take the field after a South Korean flag flashed on a screen next to a North Korean player.
Romney replied: ‘It is impossible for absolutely no mistakes to occur. Of course there will be errors from time to time, but those are all overshadowed by the extraordinary demonstrations of courage, character and determination by the athletes.
Prime Minister David Cameron also called the incident an ‘honest mistake.’
The former Massachusetts governor said: ‘My experience with regards to the Olympics is it is impossible for absolutely no mistakes to occur.
‘Of course there will be errors from time to time, but those are all overshadowed by the extraordinary demonstrations of courage, character and determination by the athletes.
‘The games are, after all, about the athletes, the volunteers and the people of the community that come together to celebrate those athletes. They are not about the Organising Committee.
‘And as soon as the sporting events begin, we all forget the organisers and focus on the athletes.’
The gaffe occurred as he met with British opposition leader Ed Miliband as the Houses of Parliament when Romney awkwardly said: ‘Like you, Mr Leader, I look forward to our conversation this morning.’
‘Mr Leader’ is not to be confused with the ‘Dear Leader’ moniker for North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il.
While Romney likely had only the best of intentions, ‘Mr Miliband’ would have been just fine for the Labour Party leader.
Romney is not the first – and certainly won’t be the last – to commit a blunder in the face of British leaders.
President Barack Obama was left red-faced last year when he proposed a toast to Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.
But as Obama spoke, the orchestra began playing ‘God Save the Queen,’ and the president shunned Royal etiquette as he continued speaking over the music.
In the NBC interview, Romney has been referring to the shortcomings of G4S, a private security company, which provided thousands fewer staff than were expected, leading the armed forces to step in to help, and a threatened strike by immigration officers that was called off at the eleventh hour.
Romney also toured the Great Pavilion exhibit with Foreign Secretary William Hague before heading to Downing Street for a private meeting with Prime Minister Cameron.
He also met with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and is later scheduled to sit down with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.
But it wasn’t all about pleasantries.
Romney was the subject of a Twitter rant by veteran NBC News White House correspondent and political director Chuck Todd, who chided the candidate for taking questions from British reporters, but not their American counterparts.
Mr Todd tweeted: ‘Can’t believe Romney took questions from the British press corps but not from my colleagues traveling overseas with him. Bad form’.
In another post, Mr Todd said: ‘Whether you love or hate us in the media; you should want your leaders to at least submit themselves to questions’.
Three hours later, after Romney took queries from U.S. journalists outside 10 Downing Street, Mr Todd tweeted: ‘Glad to see Romney took a few questions just now from the traveling press corps.’
Romney will also be holding fundraisers using the spirit of the Olympic season to put a spotlight on his time managing the 2002 Salt Lake City games.
Breaking bread with British officials is typically one of the first priorities of any new president, and establishing those relationships beforehand can help smooth the transition.
It’s not unusual for American presidential candidates to meet with British leaders during the campaign; Obama did so when he took a trip abroad as the likely Democratic nominee in 2008.
Romney’s week-long overseas trip will also take him to Israel and Poland.
At No. 10: Romney was also photographed outside of 10 Downing Street before a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron