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First Thoughts: Recapping Romney's Israel stop

Recapping Romney’s stop in Israel… It wasn’t London, but there were still some snafus for Team Romney there… Romney touches down in Poland… And he admits he’s been audited by the IRS… Romney’s transparency problem… What he said at that fundraiser with Sheldon Adelson… Bill Clinton’s big role at the Democratic convention… Obama camp stops its PA ad spending, for now… And Cruz-ing to victory: Will Ted Cruz beat David Dewhurst in tomorrow’s TX SEN run-off?

Jason Reed / Reuters

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is pictured in front of the Old City of Jerusalem as he delivers foreign policy remarks at Mishkenot Sha'ananim, July 29, 2012.

*** Recapping Romney’s Israel stop: Fortunately for Mitt Romney and his campaign, the visit to Israel went much smoother than the stop in Great Britain. But there were still some snafus (more on them below). In his speech yesterday in Jerusalem, Romney checked all the boxes. He embraced Israel. “We’re part of the great fellowship of democracies. We speak the same language of freedom and justice, and the right of every person to live in peace.” He talked tough on Iran. “We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option. We must lead the effort to prevent Iran from building and possessing nuclear weapons capability.” And he even made a subtle dig at President Obama, referring to the tension between the Obama administration and Israel’s conservative Netanyahu government. “Diplomatic distance in public between our nations emboldens Israel's adversaries.” But what Romney DIDN’T SAY was almost as striking -- if not more so. Not once did he utter the phrase “peace process” nor the words “Palestine” or “Palestinian,” and that also means he never talked about or made the case for a two-state solution. Was the speech for anyone other than base Republicans? This trip to Israel felt like a primary trip, not one aimed at the general election.

*** More snafus: As mentioned above, Team Romney still had some problems while in Israel. For starters, a top adviser on Israel matters -- Dan Senor -- suggested that Romney was set to support a unilateral strike by Israel on Iran, the New York Times noted. “If Israel has to take action on its own, the governor would respect that decision,” Senor said in a briefing before Romney’s speech yesterday. But Romney later walked back Senor’s remarks, telling ABC: “I think I’ll use my own terms in that regard and that is that I recognize the right of Israel to defend itself.” Also, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Romney canceling his meeting with an Israeli opposition party figure upset folks there. And a Palestinian official criticized Romney for asserting that Jerusalem is Israel’s true capital, the AP said. “The Palestinians want to establish a capital in east Jerusalem, captured and annexed by Israel in 1967. Most of the world, including the U.S., does not recognize the annexation. The U.S. and others keep their embassies in Tel Aviv.” What’s more the same Palestinian official also criticized Romney for suggesting that Israel’s culture is superior to the Palestinians’. So it wasn’t England, but Romney was still 1) making folks mad, and 2) having to walk back remarks.

*** Arrival in Poland: Romney and the media following him have touched down in Poland, the final leg of the candidate’s weeklong overseas trip. On today’s agenda in Gdansk: Romney participates in photo sprays with Polish PM Donald Tusk (at 10:15 am ET) and former President Lech Walesa (at 11:20 am ET). Later, he visits a World War II memorial and Solidarity Monument Site.

*** Romney admits he’s been audited by the IRS: Romney made some other -- call it accidental -- news yesterday in his interview with ABC. He mentioned he had been audited by the IRS. In response to question about his tax returns, the GOP candidate said, “[M]y view is I’ve paid all the taxes required by law. From time to time I’ve been audited, as happens I think to other citizens as well… I don’t pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president.”  The Romney campaign will not say what year he was audited -- only that he was found to be in compliance and that the audit took place more than 10 years ago. But while being audited isn’t that odd, it only adds to the narrative that his tax returns are so unique that it invites an audit.

*** Romney’s transparency problem: The Romney camp was wise to reverse course and finally allow press into a fundraiser in Israel this morning that it suddenly declared off limits, which violated protocol with the media. Why was it smart to reverse course? Because the Romney campaign already has a transparency problem. It has said it won’t reveal its bundlers (as George W. Bush, John McCain, and Barack Obama have) or release Romney’s own tax returns prior to 2010. So barring the media from covering an agreed-upon event would have even furthered this transparency problem. All administrations tend to be less transparent than promised once they get into office -- it’s the natural result of partisan conflict as well as the tension between the different branches of government. But Romney is well on his way to being the first presumptive presidential nominee we can remember who has been LESS transparent than his predecessors.

*** What Romney said at that fundraiser in Israel: So what did we learn from this fundraiser after the press was allowed entry? According to the pool report, attendees included Sheldon Adelson and his wife, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, mega-donor Paul Singer, and others. What’s more, Romney’s remarks at the fundraisers seemed to criticize Obama, though Romney didn’t mention him by name. “We face some real challenges, nonetheless, and perhaps in part because of the great success of these places, this home of yours, my home of America, that some are troubled by our success and seek to bring us down.” He added, “The news that our economy grew at 1.5% last quarter was really quite troubling. We’re now four years past the big downturn that occurred in 2008, and four years down the road and still seeing tepid numbers bouncing along the bottom is troubling.”

*** Adelson’s top issue: Speaking of Adelson, it is especially noteworthy that the biggest issue for the No. 1 donor to Republican causes, campaigns, and interest groups right now isn’t a domestic concern like taxes or regulation. It’s Israel. Adelson has really doubled down on becoming the highest profile mega-donor to the GOP. He seemed to almost relish the attention he was getting from the U.S. press corps while in Jerusalem on Romney’s behalf.

*** Bubba’s role at the Dem convention: As the New York Times first reported, former president Bill Clinton will speak in primetime on the next-to-last day of the Democratic convention, on Wednesday, Sept 5. That decision, NBC’s Carrie Dann notes, means that Vice President Biden will instead speak before the president on the final Thursday evening of the convention. Clinton is expected to argue for Obama's economic policies in his speech. "There's no one better to cut through on economic issues and lay out the choice in the election because he understands the consequences of the policy differences" from his own presidency, an aide said. But what shouldn’t be ignored about this decision is that Wednesday Sept. 5 is the NFL’s first game of the regular season, which will air on NBC. (It’s Giants-Cowboys; not exactly a matchup of teams that have small fan bases.) The Obama camp realized that it needed a big draw to compete with the NFL game and to convince the other networks to cover (NBC will NOT be airing any of the convention on the NFL night). In addition, moving Biden to Thursday isn’t a snub at all; in fact, it means that more male eyeballs will be on him than would have been the case if he went on Wednesday. Per NBC’s Dann, sources say the decision to bump Biden to the final night of the convention was made jointly by the VP and the president. Both Biden and Obama will speak at the football stadium.

*** Obama camp stops its PA ad spending, for now:  By the way, the Obama campaign is no longer advertising in Pennsylvania -- at least for now. We’ll have more information on all the ad spending later. But their latest buy has them in 8 states: FL, VA, NH, OH, IA, NV, CO and NC.

*** Cruz-ing to victory? And tomorrow is the Texas Senate run-off between LG David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz. All the momentum seems to be with Cruz right now. In fact, Politico pretty much says the race is his to lose. “Ted Cruz is on the cusp of a win in the Texas Republican Senate runoff that would shatter conventional campaign wisdom and elevate him as one of the brightest stars of the tea party generation.” Of course, anything can happen in a run-off. But if Cruz wins, it would be the Club for Growth’s biggest win in a big state. And a Dewhurst loss would mean that he got turned into the establishment incumbent. Given the unpopularity of Congress right now and of government in general, being tagged “the incumbent” is a political death sentence in competitive primaries. (Watch out Tommy Thompson).

Countdown to GOP convention: 28 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 35 days
Countdown to Election Day: 99 days

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