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Rupert Cornwell: Europe-bashing by the Republicans is nothing new – just ask George W Bush

  • @IndyVoices

If Mitt Romney does become President, the first thing he might have to do is mend fences with Europe. The Old Continent may be a regular butt of criticism in the US – but rarely criticism as virulent and continuous as that dished out on the campaign trail by the 2012 Republican front-runner.

On Tuesday, in his New Hampshire victory speech, Mr Romney was at it again, linking Barack Obama no fewer than three times with a Europe he held up as a monument to economic failure and moral decay. The President, he said, wanted to turn America, the land of opportunity, into "a European-style entitlement society". Mr Obama, he added, "takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe", in contrast to Republicans who looked to "the cities and small towns of America".

Mr Romney's third jab was the sharpest: the current White House reflected not the best of America but "the worst of what Europe has become".

Europe-bashing is nothing new. In 2008, during his first White House run, Mr Romney indulged in it against both Mr Obama and the latter's rival, Hillary Clinton. Four years earlier, the George W Bush campaign portrayed John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, as Frenchified and effete.

In the lexicon of US political abuse, "European" has traditionally meant liberal, elitist and unpatriotic. Now, with the European economy buckling under the debt crisis, it signifies failure as well. It therefore makes perfect sense for Mr Romney to evoke Europe's spectre and tie Mr Obama to it. Another term for this President, he has repeatedly warned, would see America in the same plight as Greece.

And the tactic plays well. On Tuesday, his anti-Europe lines drew some of the loudest cheers of the evening, not least perhaps because they tap the visceral feeling of many Republicans that Mr Obama is "foreign" and not really an American at all. Not so long ago, after all, the President's very US citizenship was in dispute in some quarters.

Finally, it helps Mr Romney deflect the criticism of his career at Bain Capital that he now faces from his Republican rivals – and that he would certainly face from Team Obama. Characterise private equity firms as vultures that destroy jobs, if you will, Mr Romney is saying. But that's how red-blooded capitalism works. If you prefer the feather-bedded "socialist" model, then just take a look at today's Europe.