WARSAW, Poland - Mitt Romney highlighted ties between the United States and Poland in a speech here Tuesday, hailing the European nation's march toward fiscal austerity as a model for the rest of the world.
Romney said a Polish leader told him during his visit that his country's economic philosophy is, "You don't borrow what you can't pay back." The presumptive Republican presidential nominee used the line to draw an implicit contrast with President Barack Obama, saying the world - and, by definition, the United States - should emulate Poland's economic and societal transformation toward smaller government.
"Rather than heeding the false promise of a government-dominated economy, Poland sought to stimulate innovation, attract investment, expand trade and live within its means," Romney said. "Your success today is a reminder that the principles of free enterprise can propel an economy and transform a society."
But the White House hopeful's overseas tour took another rocky turn on its final day, as a campaign spokesman cursed at journalists shouting questions at Romney.
Romney had just laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw's Pilsudski Square, personally thanking and shaking hands with about 50 uniformed Polish soldiers who watched the silent ceremony. Then, in a gesture of gratitude, Romney pressed his hand to his heart and bowed his head.
As he walked back to his vehicle, he ignored reporters' shouted questions. When a journalist noted that Romney has taken almost no questions from his traveling press corps throughout the foreign trip, Romney spokesman Rick Gorka retorted, "Kiss my ass."
"This is a holy site for the Polish people," Gorka said. "Show some respect."
Moments later, Gorka told another reporter to "shove it." Gorka later called the reporters to apologize.
Shortly before Romney departed for the airport to fly home to the United States, his top campaign strategist tried to put a positive spin on the trip, saying "it was a great success." But criticism continued to mount over Romney's series of controversial remarks - the latest made Monday in Jerusalem when the candidate said the Israeli economy was stronger than the Palestinian economy because of "cultural" differences.
"He has a tendency to speak his mind and to say what he believes, and whenever you do that, there will be those that disagree with you, and there will be those that agree with you," strategist Stuart Stevens told reporters. "That's what he's done in these situations. I think people like that. I think that this idea that you have to not speak your mind is something that's not very appealing to people."
Romney's advisers have been arguing that Romney's stumbles abroad, although unwanted distractions, will not have an impact on the November election, arguing instead that it will be a referendum on Obama's stewardship of the economy.
Referencing the missteps of Romney's trip, Stevens said, "I don't think that will go down in history as very important."
And Stevens defended Romney's preparedness to be commander-in-chief, saying "it's very easy to imagine him being president. I think that given his background, his stature, what he's accomplished, his age: that he is someone that people think is qualified and ready to be president."
At a meeting earlier with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, Romney thanked the Polish people for their contributions to the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Our friendship spans centuries and is built by our common values and love of freedom," Romney told Sikorski. "As we face a world which seeks to determine a course towards greater freedom or more authoritarianism, we will continue to work together to be an example of the blessings of economic and political freedom and personal freedom, and to stand in our mutual efforts to secure peace for ourselves and for others."
Later, in his 15-minute speech delivered at the University of Warsaw, Romney said the United States and Poland "share a common cause, tested by time, inseparable by foe."
"It's been a trip to three places far apart on the map," Romney said of his trip overall. "But for an American, you can't get much closer to the ideals and convictions of my own country than you can in these places. Our nations belong to the great fellowship of democracies. We speak the same language of freedom and justice. We uphold the right of every person to live in peace."
Romney repeatedly praised the late Pope John Paul II, who hailed from Poland and remains a popular figure among American Catholics.
"John Paul II understood that a nation is not a flag or a plot of land," Romney said. "It is a people - a community of values. And the highest value Poland honors - to the world's great fortune - is man's innate desire to be free."