Romney Not Sealing The Deal With Conservatives

If the reaction at this year's CPAC is any indication, Mitt Romney still has some work to do to seal up his party's base.

If the reaction of the attendees at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, and the conservative pundits who have been watching the proceedings here at the Marriott Wardman Park, are any indication, it’s pretty clear that Mitt Romney is still not sealing the deal with the conservatives who have had doubts about him from the beginning of this process:

Mitt Romney wanted to use his CPAC speech Friday to allay concerns about his candidacy on the Republican right, but with one ad-libbed word he reinforced conservative fears that he’s not one of them.

“I was a severely conservative Republican governor,” Romney told the annual gathering.

The response was immediate.

“Severely?”

“I have never heard anybody say, ‘I’m severely conservative,'” Rush Limbaugh noted on his show.

“That didn’t get a lot of applause,” firebrand Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) observed with a tight smile.

“Some things are too funny to comment on,” a laughing Newt Gingrich commented as he walked into the conference to give his own speech.

Romney’s address won repeated applause. He outlined his conservative credentials, both in his public and private life, and offered a strong indictment of President Barack Obama. But by going off-script to use an awkward modifier that no movement conservative would ever affix to themselves, he made clear why, despite vast advantages in money and organization, he’s still struggling to win the trust of a party base needed to secure the GOP presidential nomination. He’s just not a natural fit.

Success at CPAC is hardly a perfect indicator for how a candidate will perform with the Republican electorate. Romney knows this well, having captured the straw poll here in the past only to lose the nomination to a candidate, John McCain, who was booed when he addressed the conference just weeks before securing the GOP nod.

Yet Romney’s trio of losses Tuesday and his all-out effort to woo the base here — he used some variation of “conservative” 25 separate times in his speech — underscores the degree to which the party has shifted in the four years since McCain captured the nomination.

The old nominating game standbys, the notions of inevitability and success begetting success, have proven irrelevant in 2012. Romney rolled in Florida and cruised in Nevada — and then, without an aggressive campaign, had nothing to show for it in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado. This election has proven momentum-proof to date.

That’s not to say that Romney’s speech got boos yesterday, because it didn’t. In fact, the applause was generally pretty loud and sustained at the right times and the speech was, overall, fairly good for a Romney speech (at least he didn’t break into an extended discussion about America The Beautiful). At the same time, though, it seemed at many times that he was trying far too hard to emphasize his conservatism as a way to address the doubts that many in the crowd no doubt have about him, and it seemed force at times. The “severely conservative” line, for example, got heavy applause but at the time seemed even more forced than it reads on paper. Would Romney have used a line like that if it weren’t for the fact that his opponents primary argument against him has been to accuse him of not being conservative enough? I doubt it.

Based on the entirely unscientific discussions I had with several people after the speech, it didn’t seem like Romney’s speech did much to win over the doubters, either. If you were an “Anybody But Mitt” person before the speech, you still were one after the speech. One speech isn’t going to change minds overnight, but the fact that it seems to have done little to alleviate the doubts suggests that Romney still has a way to go to win the base over. Of course, there’s nothing that succeeds like success and if Romney is the guy who ends up winning the nomination I personally have little doubt that most hard-core conservatives will get in line behind him rather quickly, because if there’s one person in the 2012 race they dislike more than Mitt Romney it’s Barack Obama, and they’re not going to pass up the chance to vote against him in November.

If the conservatives at CPAC are not buying Romney, though, they appear to be really warming up to Rick Santorum:

The man who’s making the latest bid to become the once-and-for-all Romney alternative, Rick Santorum, all but grabbed the CPAC activists by the lapels in his speech Friday, arguing that conservatives ought to nominate one of their own this time.

“Conservatives and tea-party folks,” Santorum said near the top of his remarks. “We are not just wings of the Republican Party — we are the Republican Party.”

The GOP, he argued, “will no longer abandon and apologize for the policies and principles that made this country great for a hollow victory in November.”

Later in his address, Santorum directly brought up the tea party-infused Republican 2010 wave, claiming that Republicans won because they were enthusiastic about their candidates.

Turning to this year’s election, and clearly alluding to Romney, the former Pennsylvania senator asked: “Why would an undecided voter vote for a candidate of the party who the party’s not excited about?”

Santorum’s introducer and the chief patron of his super PAC was more blunt.

“It didn’t work with Bob Dole, it didn’t work with John McCain,” said Foster Friess, warning against nominating establishment favorites.

But with Santorum re-emerging and Newt Gingrich still lingering, Romney is making a newly aggressive case about what separates him from both Dole and McCain and his current conservative rivals.

Romney’s response to the rise of Santorum this time around looks like it’s going to be the same as his attacks on Gingrich, to point out the fact that Santorum’s record in Washington reveals him to be far from the conservative that he now claims to be. Whether that will work coming from a guy like Romney remains to be seen, but the more important point is that attacking your opponent’s bona fides isn’t necessarily the best way to convince the conservative base that they can be comfortable with you. And that, in the end, is the problem that Mitt Romney has had from the beginning of this process.

Photo via The Daily Caller

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Eric Florack says:

    No, he’s not.
    And it’s not like I have not told you this previously.

    I’m quite sure that the subject will come up, in this thread, so call this a pre-emptive strike…

    No, the GOP has not swung to the right.

    ? I suggest that looking at the presidential candidates of the Republican Party in the post the Reagan era, exposes that argument as the lie that it is.

    Let’s consider that list…
    • Bush senior
    • Bob Dole
    • Bush junior
    • John McCain
    • And now, Mitt Romney

    First of all, Bush senior was brought in as the vice presidential candidate by Reagan to assuage the fears of the establishment GOP that Reagan was too far to the right. In other words, Reagan actively sought out and found someone who could best be described as a centrist. Not a conservative.

    Bob Dole was frequently touted by places like the New York Times as centrist.

    Bush junior, much as the left liked to paint him as the next Hitler, was in fact at best a centrist. He was by far the better choice of Al Gore, for example, but he should be in no way confused with a conservative.

    Much as John McCain liked to present himself as a conservative, he was and is not. Much as he liked to present himself as a maverick, he most certainly was and is not. He is at best a centrist, and a weak- willed one at that, recently going so far as to label Obama… the most radical of leftists, as “centrist”.

    Then we have Mitt Romney… He of Romneycare… a work of left leaning big government legislation that is so much the basis of Obama care, that Obama has to cite him as a coauthor, for fear of a copyright infringement lawsuit.

    If we are to accept the idea that these offerings for the Presidency of the United States are a reflection Of the will of the rank and file in the Republican Party, then the only conclusion that one can draw is that the Republican party, if anything has drifted seriously to the left in the post Reagan era.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Of course CPAC was conservative. They had an overt racist and white supremacist speaking there. How much more conservative can you be?

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Personality trumps policy in politics. Always has, always will.

    A lot of liberals have very serious issues with Obama policy. But we like him. So we make excuses for the areas of disagreement.

    Same with Reagan and conservatives. They liked him so much they simply overlooked his record of raising taxes, negotiating with Communists, arming terrorists, and turning tail to run from Lebanon.

    No one likes Romney. So he is cut no slack.

  4. Eric Florack says:

    Ah, yes, all a leftist has to do is toss out “extremist” or “racist” and all coversdation is supposed to stop.

  5. Eric Florack says:

    Personality trumps policy in politics.

    Certainly… if one has no principles.

  6. Eric Florack says:

    Oh… and by the way…. CPAC and success thereat, is certainly no giude… as I’ve pointed out in previous elections.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    @Eric Florack:

    It would probably help if you stopped associating your so-called movement with known white supremacists like Peter Brimelow. See, then we wouldn’t call your movement racist. If you didn’t so easily cozy up to racists.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Personality trumps policy in politics.

    Certainly… if one has no principles.

    Explain to me how your principles involve supporting Mr. Reagan’s transfer of US weapons to the hostage-takers and terrorists in Iran in violation of US law? Or how your principles square with the single-day record loss of Marines followed by a cut-and-run?

  9. Eric Florack says:

    So, saving lives doesn’t enter into into your mind, eh?

    Or are you confusing government force of law, with principle?

    It would probably help if you stopped associating your so-called movement with known white supremacists like Peter Brimelow.

    And at what point have I even mentioned him?

    Straw man argument, writ large, Reynolds.

  10. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    @Eric Florack: You don’t have to mention Brimelow; CPAC’s agenda does it for you (pdf). Check the 12:30 p.m. Thursday multiculturalism panel.

  11. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    @Eric Florack:

    …the only conclusion that one can draw is that the Republican party, if anything has drifted seriously to the left in the post Reagan era.

    Shorter Eric: Conservatism cannot fail; conservatism can only be failed.

  12. Eric Florack says:

    Shorter Eric: Conservatism cannot fail; conservatism can only be failed.

    Nice try, but no tofu for you.

  13. Eric Florack says:

    You don’t have to mention Brimelow;

    I don’t even know which are objection to the guy is, but for me to take blame for fighting for his cause, I would have at least had to mention him.

    Frankly, I don’t think you know which are objection is either. He stands up against multiculturalism. Not racism. Culture, not race, is the issue.

    And guess what? I’ve said repeatedly over the years that multiculturalism doesn’t work. So, I suppose now I’ll be called a racist for saying that.

    it doesn’t have to make sense with you people, it just has to exist and be loud.

  14. Brummagem Joe says:

    I personally have little doubt that most hard-core conservatives will get in line behind him rather quickly, because if there’s one person in the 2012 race they dislike more than Mitt Romney it’s Barack Obama, and they’re not going to pass up the chance to vote against him in November.

    Probably true but hard core conservative number around 30% of the electorate and if you’re worried about their loyalty.

  15. anjin-san says:

    toss out “extremist” or “racist

    Let’s look at bithead’s record on the subject:

    Referred to Obama as “Jimmy Carter in blackface”

    Google results from a few searches for bit’s blog:

    Archives for October 29th, 2008 | BitsBlog
    bitsblog.florack.us/?m=20081029Oct 29, 2008 – Barack Obama: House Nigger. DavidL on October 29th, 2008. From Urban Dictionary: 1. house nigger 298 up, 38 down A black person that …

    Breakfast Scramble: Obama’s Plantation Mentality | BitsBlog
    bitsblog.florack.us/?p=34022Aug 25, 2011 – The blog has challenged the lame stream talking point that Barack … of the free world, but just another house nigger doing his master’s bidding.

    bitsblog.florack.us – Google Keyword – Website-Tools.net
    website-tools.net/google-keyword/site/bitsblog.florack.usBarack Obama: House Nigger | BitsBlog. bitsblog.florack.us/?p=13180. 2011-08-28 16:51:06. 5 – 9, andrea mitchell john mccain …

  16. JohnMcC says:

    Mr Florack, every liberal in the world is hoping the Repubs nominate someone you consider a ‘real conservative’, and not just in this election but in many future ones. Oh please, let it happen!

    And for the record, your claims are not new. Around the time of the Goldwater nomination there was a book called “A Choice Not an Echo” making your point. It was written by Phyllis Schlafly.

    So — to show my age let me use a metaphor from the past — your needle has been stuck in that groove for a long long time. And in that time so-called-conservatives have only nominated Reagan and Goldwater. Which of course leads to the question ‘What’s the problem with conservatives?’ Their own party doesn’t like them. Why should anyone else?

    But don’t despair. You’ll see the error of your ways after a few pleasant months in a nice re-education camp. And we’ll reinstate the ‘fairness doctrine’ to make sure you don’t fall into error again.

  17. anjin-san says:

    Here is an edited version of my comment that just went into moderation. Seems that the racist language bithead deems acceptable on his site won’t even get past the filters on a respectable blog like OTB:

    toss out “extremist” or “racist

    Let’s look at bithead’s record on the subject:

    Referred to Obama as “Jimmy Carter in blackface”

    Google results from a few searches for bit’s blog:

    Archives for October 29th, 2008 | BitsBlog
    bitsblog.florack.us/?m=20081029Oct 29, 2008 – Barack Obama: House Nig*er. DavidL on October 29th, 2008. From Urban Dictionary: 1. house nig*er 298 up, 38 down A black person that …

    Breakfast Scramble: Obama’s Plantation Mentality | BitsBlog
    bitsblog.florack.us/?p=34022Aug 25, 2011 – The blog has challenged the lame stream talking point that Barack … of the free world, but just another house nig*er doing his master’s bidding.

    bitsblog.florack.us – Google Keyword – Website-Tools.net
    website-tools.net/google-keyword/site/bitsblog.florack.usBarack Obama: House Nig*er | BitsBlog. bitsblog.florack.us/?p=13180. 2011-08-28 16:51:06. 5 – 9, andrea mitchell john mccain …

  18. Tillman says:

    Of course, there’s nothing that succeeds like success.

    Well, uhh, sure, why not. There’s nothing that’s green like green, after all.

  19. MM says:

    Frankly, I don’t think you know which are objection is either. He stands up against multiculturalism. Not racism. Culture, not race, is the issue.

    And guess what? I’ve said repeatedly over the years that multiculturalism doesn’t work. So, I suppose now I’ll be called a racist for saying that.

    Things I learned on the internet today:

    A man who runs an explicitly white nationalist website where authors state such opinions as America was founded as a white nation, the objective of the Jewish people is to weaken the white race in America, and the innate savagery of the black race means that they cannot govern themselves is not racist.

    back to Romney: Romney’s problem is that he is nsimultaneously trying to appeal to the moderate undecided voter and to the base. This wasa great strategy assuming he was going to build a commanding lead against the other candidates and never lose it. Now that everyone but Mitt is getting a day in the sun, it forces him to try to sound like a wonky technocrat and a red-meat conservative at the same time. The end result is an awkard amalgam.

    Now the larger point should be that the fact that this race is being manipulated by a fickle base that seems to care more for red meat and insults and someone who’s going to stick it to Obama is the BIG problem here, but unsolvable at this point in time. The Tea Party and the like believe that the country wants someone who talks like a member of Free Republic, and seem unwilling to waver at all on that.

  20. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    @anjin-san: Holy crap. Amazing find, anjin.

  21. Kylopod says:

    @Eric Florack: Please explain to me how Bush Jr. is a centrist.

  22. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @anjin-san: Oopsie!

  23. anjin-san says:

    Certainly… if one has no principles.

    bit – why don’t you tell us how “dropping N’s” and comments about Obama and plantations on your blog, then crying foul when Republicans are called racists jibes with your principles.

    On second thought, don’t bother – it’s obvious.

  24. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Eric Florack: I finally see! You are the only “true conservative” remaining. Sort of a “Lone Ranger of the Right.”

  25. Eric Florack says:

    Let’s look at bithead’s record on the subject:

    Referred to Obama as “Jimmy Carter in blackface”

    Now that you’ve pointed it out, perhaps you could point out where it is inaccurate?
    I don’t think you can, but let’s find out.

  26. Eric Florack says:

    Mr Florack, every liberal in the world is hoping the Repubs nominate someone you consider a ‘real conservative’, and not just in this election but in many future ones. Oh please, let it happen!

    You probably weren’t around for it, but personally I saw many such sentiments being posted as Jimmy Carter attempted to run for a second term in office. The smallest of investigations will show you how clearly how well that worked out.

  27. Neil Hudelson says:

    You probably weren’t around for it, but personally I saw many such sentiments being posted as Jimmy Carter attempted to run for a second term in office.

    Wow, you got into blogging really early.

  28. An Interested Party says:

    Now that you’ve pointed it out, perhaps you could point out where it is inaccurate?

    Since you are the one who made the claim, chum, it is on you to prove it…by the way, I guess someone who makes a statement like that would be fine with someone making a statement like, “Allen West is Bob Dornan in blackface” or something similar…

  29. anjin-san says:

    Now that you’ve pointed it out, perhaps you could point out where it is inaccurate?

    I have to give you credit for one thing. Whenever I think you could not possibly make a bigger ass of yourself, you prove me wrong.

  30. Eric Florack says:

    I have to give you credit for one thing. Whenever I think you could not possibly make a bigger ass of yourself, you prove me wrong.

    So, you have no answer.

    Noted.

    Here’s the question again.
    Now that you’ve pointed it out, perhaps you could point out where it is inaccurate?