Note to GOP: Steer clear of UK

Story highlights

  • Timothy Stanley: U.S. politicians becoming regular feature in London
  • Candidates considering visit to London should take second look at map, he says

Timothy Stanley is a historian and columnist for Britain's Daily Telegraph. He is the author of the new book "Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between L.A. and D.C. Revolutionized American Politics." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Here in London, you can tell that the U.S. presidential election is only about 600 days away because every restaurant here seems to contain a senator or a governor. Why do they come to Britain? Whatever their motivation, nine times out of 10 they wish they hadn't.

Most recently, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker visited Chatham House -- a gorgeous foreign policy study center in Westminster. There he was asked if he believed in evolution or not. Why, I cannot fathom. Either way, Walker refused to answer, which probably seemed like a clever thing to do in the heat of the moment.
But while an equivocation that might simply sound awkward in America, it sounded off-the-wall crazy in London. Why? Because for us it is like being casually asked "Does two plus two equal four?" and replying, "I'd rather not answer a hypothetical question." One doesn't dodge an invitation to assert fact in the UK. Scott dodged, and because the audience laughed gently at him in English accents, it made him look all the more like a country bumpkin.
    Timothy Stanley
    American politicians have to stop doing this. Go to Israel instead: there the applause lines are well scripted and all the audience expects to see you do is pray with moist eyes. In contrast, England is somewhere that American political careers go to end. We're too judgmental, too passive aggressive, too weird. Even we don't like ourselves -- so I've no idea why Americans fly here seeking a warm welcome.
    Consider how horrible we were to Mitt Romney. Of course, from our point of view he wasn't very nice to us either.
    In July 2012, he showed up in London and began by casting doubt on our ability to host the Olympics (something we very much doubted, too, but weren't going to take criticisms from a foreigner). Then he appeared to forget the name of the leader of the opposition and called him "Mr. Leader" instead (we'd all like to forget his name, but sadly, it is etched on our memories thanks to his ineptitude).
    Finally, Romney said that it was curious to look out of the "backside of Number 10 Downing Street" ("backside" is English for "ass"). For all of this, London Mayor Boris Johnson taunted Mitt in front of a large British crowd -- and Boris is the closest you get to a politician we actually like. So Mitt's humiliation was a big deal.
    It's all part of a pattern. Politician comes to Britain, opens his mouth, says something foolish. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's remarks about vaccinations were probably a little too parochial to cause a stir in in the UK media, but Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's about Muslims certainly did.
    Speaking to the Henry Jackson Society -- a neoconservative British group who are fans of the late senator -- he revived the claim that there are "no-go" areas in the UK as a result of Islamic immigration. But while there certainly are no-go areas here, it's because they're just horrible and no one (Muslim, Jewish, Christian or anyone else) would want to go there.
    Every nation has its Detroits, but the idea that my country has become a patchwork of little caliphates is sheer fantasy.
    Is there a political bias in all of this? Do Republicans make particularly bad travelers? Not necessarily. Partly what's going on here is that there are far more GOP contenders than Democratic ones, so it's the conservative mistakes that get noticed the most.
    But there might also be some truth in the assertion that the British enjoy tripping Republicans up more. Why, otherwise, would someone ask Scott Walker whether or not he believes in evolution when he's in the UK on a trade mission? Hillary or Bill Clinton would never be asked such a question.
    Make no mistake, our largely left-wing media sees the GOP as a Hollywood cliché of the old Wild West -- so it's no surprise that its candidates get all the strangest questions. But that, I would argue, is one more reason for Republicans to cross Britain off their places to visit.
    Another is our decline in importance. You see, we're not nearly as superior as we like to make ourselves out to be. We've cut our defense spending and chosen not to take part in half of the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. We contributed nothing towards the recent Ukrainian ceasefire negotiations because we are, in the opinion of some, irrelevant.
    Meanwhile, the decline of religion in this country is fast, but while we like to imagine it has brought enlightenment, the reality is probably that it has brought social dislocation and despair. Our poor are so poor that they rely upon free food handouts. And our politics can be as frustrating and fractured as America's -- we have a buoyant far right to prove it.
    So my advice for any other presidential candidates considering a visit to London is to take a second look at the map. China matters rather more. Australia is a better vision of conservative government. Germany runs Europe these days. And, of course, there's a lot happening in Russia right now, too...