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Spain reacts to Romney's Spanish cautionary tale

Update: Spaniards woke up today to the news that Mitt Romney had decided to single out their country for fiscal irresponsibility, and many are not happy. María Dolores de Cospedal, the secretary-general of the ruling People's Party, told the radio service RNE that "Spain is not on fire through and through as some on the outside would have us believe," noting that Romney's remarks "upset me deeply" and that Spain "has also been a model for economic recovery." She conceded that "our image has been damaged and regaining confidence is very difficult" but added that Spain "is in the eye of the hurricane" for a reason -- "there are many people who have a lot of interest in the euro not being stable and there are some who believe that the easiest thing to do is to attack Spain." (Cospedal was also responding to a recent New York Times article on widespread poverty in the country.)

Other Spanish leaders have lashed out at Romney as well. José Manuel García-Margallo, the minister of foreign affairs and cooperation, said it was "very unfortunate" that Romney had made "tenuous analogies" without "understanding the reality of countries" like Spain. Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, the justice minister, didn't catch the debate but pledged to "correct misperceptions" about Spain. 

Beyond the official responses, the Spanish press is chewing over Romney's comments as well. Headlines include "The Prescription for Spain's Bad Image Is Self-Esteem" and "Romney Didn't Speak the Truth About Spain." Spain is "in bad shape," blogger Martí Saballs admitted at La Expansión, but "to make it an example of a country that the United States shouldn't imitate strikes me as an extraordinary frivolity."

Original post: It may be early morning in Spain right now, but news outlets in the country quickly seized on Mitt Romney's warning during the presidential debate on Wednesday night that if the United States didn't get its fiscal house in order, it could end up like Spain, which is currently grappling with sky high unemployment and steep borrowing costs, and may soon receive a European bailout.

"Spain spends 42 percent of their total economy on government," Romney noted, veering away from the European cautionary tale he most often trots out on the campaign trail: Greece. "We're now spending 42 percent of our economy on government. I don't want to go down the path to Spain." Here's the clip, via Slate:

Within minutes of Romney's remark, Spain's major news outlets lit up with the news. Here's El Pais, with the headline, "Romney: 'I don't want us to go down the path of Spain.'"

And El Mundo, with the banner, "Mitt Romney: 'I don't want to follow the path of Spain.'"

And ABC, with the headline, "Romney: 'Spain spends 42 percent of its economy on government. I don't want to be like Spain.'"

Romney didn't specify his source for the statistics, but he may have gotten his numbers from the Index of Economic Freedom, which the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, publishes each year in partnership with the Wall Street Journal. According to the 2012 Index, America's government expenditure as a percentage of GDP is 42 percent and Spain's is 46 percent (Greece's is 53 percent, which perhaps explains why Romney landed on an ailing European country whose situation was more in line with America's). It's important to keep in mind that government expenditure data in the Index includes federal, state, and local spending. 

What are people in Spain making of Romney's remarks? The commentary won't surface until tomorrow, but El Mundo hosted a colorful live blog that included several opinions from its journalists (some of whom are reporting from the States). "Publicizing how well things are going for us," Felipe Sahagún observed drily. "If only for this, it would be better for us to stick with Obama. At least he doesn't stick his finger in our eye."

"Romney has a special obsession with Europe," Eduardo Suárez noted, adding that the GOP candidate has cited Spain before. "He often cites it as an example of everything the United States shouldn't be." Another reporter pointed to IMF statistics on U.S. and Spanish government spending under the heading, "electoral lies."

One commenter on the site had a more pessimistic view. After complaining about the Spanish government's taxes, the reader added, "Well of course you don't want the path of Spain. Who would?"

CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP/Getty Images

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New poll suggests Romney is winning the China argument

In their effort to court undecided voters in industrial swing states like Ohio, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been going to great lengths to demonstrate their toughness on China, hurling attack ad after attack ad at one another.

Romney has pledged to label China a currency manipulator on his first day in office and promised to balance the budget by asking whether each federal program is so important that it's worth borrowing money from China to finance it. Obama, availing himself of the power that comes with already being in office, announced a World Trade Organization complaint against China during a campaign stop in Ohio. Cracking down on China's unfair trade practices is a loaded issue -- encompassing jobs, the economy, U.S. foreign policy, and American power -- and it may very well come up during tonight's presidential debate.

So who's making the better case? A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted between Sept. 26-30, indicates that the advantage goes to Romney. When asked who would do a better job "dealing with the economic challenges we face from China," 45 percent of registered voters selected Romney while 37 percent selected Obama (the poll also shows Romney slashing Obama's foreign-policy edge by more than half, from 47-32 in July to 46-40). The NBC/WSJ survey hasn't asked the China question before, but a Bloomberg poll of likely voters, conducted between Sept. 21-24, showed Obama and Romney tied at 43 percent when it came to who would do the best job of "dealing with China on trade" (50 percent of respondents in that survey were skeptical of Romney's pledge to designate China as a currency manipulator). If Romney has indeed opened up a lead on Obama on China, that would be a significant development.

Still, there are some caveats to these numbers. Democratic pollster Fred Yang pointed out on MSNBC today that Republicans in past elections have enjoyed even greater advantages on China. And while Romney has narrowed the gap with Obama in swing states such as Florida and Virginia, he's still far behind the president in Ohio -- a state where the Republican candidate's message on China should have particular resonance (indeed, a recent Zogby poll commissioned, fittingly, by Death by China Productions found that likely voters in Ohio trust Romney more than Obama to crack down on unfair Chinese trade practices). If Romney is in fact winning the China argument, it's not yet clear that the achievement will translate into electoral success.

Even so, Obama would probably like to have that eight-point lead on China. After all, all he got for his tough line on Beijing is a lousy (if legally shaky) lawsuit.

Alex Wong/Getty Images