In hopes of regaining his footing, Romney is renewing efforts to sell himself to conservatives. He recruited a top pro-lifer, James Bopp Jr., as a “special advisor on life issues.” Bopp penned an editorial on National Review Online last week called, “Why Social Conservatives Should Support Mitt Romney for President.” This weekend in Virginia, Romney will attend the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), one of the oldest and best-attended annual events of the conservative movement. After that he’ll be at the powerful Club for Growth’s winter conference. And in two weeks, a sympathetic biography of Romney — written by one of the biggest names in the right-wing gab-o-sphere: Hugh Hewitt, syndicated talk-radio host and executive editor of the conservative blog site Townhall.com — will hit the newsstands.
But this counter-offensive carries its own risk. By getting drawn further into a fight over his conservative beliefs on abortion, gay marriage, gun control, stem-cell research, and similar issues, some argue, Romney gets further away from his strengths as a candidate.
“He didn’t lead with his strengths, he’s led with his weakness,” says Craig Shirley, a veteran political consultant and board member of the American Conservative Union (ACU). “Romney should have come as the outsider with a strong economic message.”
“You have got to have a very specific message right now,” says a New Hampshire Republican strategist close to the Romney campaign. “Romney has a message, but the campaign doesn’t seem to be articulating it very much.”
Instead, Romney will now spend the next few weeks trying to convince people of the sincerity of his ideological conversions — which is likely to make those beliefs seem even more contrived, Shirley warns. “He’s got to stop reinventing the reinvention of himself.”
Romney’s defenders are trying to turn his lemons into lemonade, arguing that the attacks are a deliberate attempt by the liberal mainstream media to sabotage their candidate, which will only endear Romney to the right.
“The mainstream media has no credibility with the center-right electorate,” says Hewitt, in an interview with the Phoenix that he insisted be conducted live on his radio show. “The more that Romney gets attacked by the MSMers, the better off he is.”
Far from rejecting Romney’s conversion on abortion, conservatives will welcome it, argues Hewitt — who says he devotes an entire chapter to abortion in his book, titled A Mormon in the White House? They have always done so, he says, as have pro-choice advocates when Democrats like Dick Gephardt and Al Gore shed their pro-life views.
True, says Shirley — as long as the change seems sincere and not political. Romney, by his own admission, became pro-life just as he was setting up his organization and raising money for his presidential campaign. “His conversion coincided with his decision to run,” Shirley says. “That’s his real problem.”
As pro-lifers try to determine whether Romney’s conversion was genuine or political, they are not hearing the conservative movement’s code words and New Testament quotations that George W. Bush so effectively sprinkled into his speeches to the religious right in 2000.