The Magazine

Risk-Averse Romney

The candidate attempts to reassure conservatives.

Apr 2, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 28 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Nonetheless, a repeat of those turnout woes seems unlikely, in part because the Barack Obama on the ballot won’t be an abstraction—a candidate who ran as a post-partisan leader vowing to end the wars and economic uncertainty that seemed to exhaust Americans at the end of the Bush administration. He is, instead, a president with a record, a man who has added more debt in three years than his predecessor added in eight and whose two signature domestic policy achievements—the stimulus and Obamacare—are so unpopular that Democrats avoid using the terms. The list of his foreign policy and national security accomplishments doesn’t go far beyond authorizing the operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

Still, for Romney to take conservatives for granted would be “political malpractice,” according to a highly regarded Republican strategist not affiliated with any presidential campaign. “An animating feature of the explosive growth of the Tea Party was due to their being dismissed (even before they were dissed and demeaned) as an insignificant voice.”

Romney hasn’t ignored this part of the Republican base. He has appeared at Tea Party events, he is a regular on conservative talk radio, and he has courted their leaders.

Last Thursday Romney reached out to the de facto leader of that group on a trip to Washington. Senator Jim DeMint, who vowed not to endorse in the Republican presidential primary, came awfully close in comments to reporters after that meeting.

“I can tell conservatives from my perspective that, I’m not only comfortable with Romney, I’m excited about the possibility of him possibly being our nominee,” he said.

The following day, Senator Pat Toomey, a DeMint ally and former head of the Club for Growth, also praised Romney. “I think Mitt Romney is a conservative, and I think if elected he’ll govern as a conservative.” That, of course, is the big question. To have a movement conservative like Toomey offer that kind of backing is no small thing. 

Toomey added: “I think Governor Romney is absolutely committed to the principles of limited government. I think he knows the free enterprise system is a source of prosperity, and opportunity, and personal fulfillment, and elevating people out of poverty.”

Toomey will not endorse, but his words echo those Romney uses on his own behalf. “I have a number of liberal folks I’ve met with, and I listen to them and I think, ‘How can you be so clueless? How do you not understand that free enterprise is the only economic strategy which has ever lifted people out of poverty and provided long-term prosperity? And you continue to try and find ways to attack free enterprise?’ I simply don’t understand it.”

The president is one of those liberals. Romney’s critique of Obama is often focused on competence more than ideology. “He’s a nice guy, but he’s in over his head,” Romney often says. 

Why not say more about ideology? Romney says the two critiques are mutually reinforcing.

Obama, he says, has an “agenda which is contrary to the interests of the economy and the nation. And I think a lot of people who have that agenda are clueless.”

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.

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