The UK Telegraph caused a stir this week, quoting a Mitt Romney advisor arguing that the Republican would improve American-British relations because of Romney's "Anglo-Saxon heritage." But the same article included another tidbit: two Romney advisors told the reporter the candidate would "reinstate the Churchill bust displayed in the Oval Office by George W. Bush."
At his London fundraiser with financiers last night, Romney brought this up, too.
As he pulled in checks from at least 250 attendees, Mr. Romney also inserted himself into British politics by saying he would return the bust of Winston Churchill to the White House. When President Barack Obama had it removed in 2009 it caused a minor kerfuffle in the U.K.
"It tugs at the heart strings to remember the kind of example" that Churchill set, Mr. Romney said, "and I'm looking forward to the bust of Winston Churchill being in the Oval Office again."
The Churchill bust has long been a strange point of interest to conservatives. President Obama, like all presidents, chose pieces to decorate the Oval Office after his inauguration. He selected busts of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., and returned the Churchill bust, which had been on loan from the U.K.
For the right, this is apparently proof of ... something nefarious. Glenn Beck started telling his followers a couple of years ago the bust swap is evidence of Obama seeking symbolic revenge for his Kenyan grandfather. Mike Huckabee start pushing a similar theory a year later.
Late last year, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), responding to far-right chatter, intervened, introducing a resolution asking for the bust to be moved to the U.S. Capitol.
What on earth are these people talking about? Well, it's an odd story, actually.
Simon Maloy set the record straight in a piece a year ago.
Let's talk about Winston Churchill.
Specifically, let's talk about a bust of Winston Churchill that, during the George W. Bush administration, sat in the Oval Office after it was lent to the former president by the British. At the end of Bush's second term (according to the White House curator ) the bust was scheduled to be returned to the Brits, and now sits in the British ambassador's residence*. The British Embassy confirmed this, saying that it "was uniquely lent to a foreign head of state, President George W Bush." Obama put in its place a bust of Abraham Lincoln, and the Oval Office still boasts some prominent items of British manufacture, including the presidential desk (made from the timbers of the HMS Resolute) and a wooden pen holder that sits atop it (made from the timbers of the HMS Gannet).
Admittedly, this is all very boring.
Yes, but there's Mitt Romney, still talking about the strange side issue Republicans actually seem to care about.
Update: Wait, it turns out the Churchill bust didn't leave the White House after all. After Charles Krauthammer complained in his column this morning about the bust, Dan Pfeiffer posted a fact-checking item: "The bust still in the White House. In the Residence. Outside the Treaty Room."
So reports that Obama gave the Churchill bust back to British officials were mistaken; it was simply moved from one room in the White House to a different room in the White House. This has been the subject of three years of complaints from the right, including Romney yesterday and Krauthammer today.
Second Update: Apparently, according to ABC, there are two different Churchill busts. The one that was loaned to Bush was returned, as was expected. The other, a gift to the White House from the British Embassy during the Nixon administration, is still in the White House. Bottom line: the preoccupation about this by Krauthammer, Romney, Beck, Huckabee, and others is just silly.