LONDON — Mitt Romney struggled Friday to stem political fallout at home after insulting Britain's handling of the Olympics in London. The stumble at least briefly pitted the Republican presidential candidate against America's strongest ally while limiting his ability to capitalize on more troubling U.S. economic news.
At the same time, President Barack Obama used his office to try to take advantage of the Republican's missteps abroad, praising Britain for its Olympics preparations.
The events confounded Republicans and tickled Democrats. People in both parties wondered aloud how the former Massachusetts governor could have complicated the opening leg of a three-nation tour carefully crafted to highlight his diplomatic strengths and his Olympic experience from the 2002 Games.
"You have to shake your head," GOP strategist Karl Rove said on Fox News.
It was unclear just how much damage Romney, who had hoped to burnish his limited foreign policy credentials, did with an American electorate that hasn't fully tuned into the race. But he stoked talk in political circles in Washington, if not elsewhere, of political tone-deafness, and he raised questions about his readiness to stand on the world stage.
He drew more attention Friday night when he attended the opening ceremonies. Just as the show was about to begin, one BBC host noted that Britain's team was ready for the Games — "despite what Mitt Romney says."
Publicly at least, Romney's campaign shrugged it all off as having little impact on American voters and moved aggressively to change the subject. His aides organized a conference call with reporters to discuss his next stop, Israel. He also will visit Poland.
British press reports made it difficult for him to turn the page. A day after London Mayor Boris Johnson assailed Romney at a rally before tens of thousands, British Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the Cabinet minister in charge of the Olympics, lashed out at him.
"When we have the opening ceremony tonight and we tell the world that eight of the world's top 10 sports were either invented or codified in Britain — and only two in America — I hope Mr. Romney is watching," he said Friday.
Seeking to quiet the uproar in its second full day, Romney declared on NBC, "It looks to me like London is ready." Asked about the stir, he said, "I'm absolutely convinced that the people here are ready for the Games."