For weeks the media has complained that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been shielded from probing interviews. The criticism is valid. With the exception of a recent Bret Baier interview on Fox News Channel, Romney's staffers have tried to preserve what they believe to be his inevitable nomination by allowing other GOP candidates to stand in the spotlight, garnering the most scrutiny.
The criticism and Romney's failure to break away from the crowded Republican field has prompted him to do more interviews.
In a telephone conversation following a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) in Washington, I asked Romney why his candidacy has not resonated with Republican voters, spawning according to Jeremy Peters of the New York Times, "...a recurrent "anybody but Mitt" drumbeat from right-leaning pundits and media outlets..."
Romney, acknowledging he was "the conservative alternative in 2008," said, "I think people want to have a chance to have a look at the other people who are running this time and get to know them better." And while his poll numbers have not risen above 25 percent, he says he is pleased that he has "...always remained among the leading contenders."
Romney predicts he will get the delegates he needs to win the nomination.
To assuage doubts, he promised to select people (and judges) with the same philosophical qualities as conservative Justices Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. "I want men and women who are extraordinarily bright, who have a track record that can be thoroughly examined and who share my values."
Of those values, self-reliance is one. In his speech to the RJC, Romney criticized the entitlement mentality of the Democrats and of those who look to government, rather than themselves for sustenance. So how would he break the addiction to government assistance, especially when, according to a recent Department of Agriculture report, 15 percent of Americans receive food stamps? How would he tackle high unemployment? Tax cuts and tax increases?
"With difficulty," he acknowledges, but he'll appeal to patriotism: "When people understand what is at stake -- the very nature of our country and our capacity to protect our freedom and provide prosperity for the next generation, then they will rally to the cause."
I'm not so sure. "Just say no" worked for some during the Reagan administration when Nancy Reagan appealed to the young not to take drugs, but once people are addicted to a government check they can't just check into rehab to get "clean." Romney needs a supplemental strategy. As he campaigns around the country, he should seek out those who have overcome difficult circumstances with right personal choices and without government and present them to voters. Let Americans see that standing on your own two feet beats riding on Uncle Sam's back.
Last week, Rachel Rose Hartman, a journalist for Yahoo.com, reported on a conference call with members of the Republican National Committee in which they were warned "to refrain from personal attacks against President Barack Obama, because such a strategy is too hazardous for the GOP." Though the president's job approval rating is low, "voters still give 'high approval' to Obama personally," Hartman writes. Does Romney feel he can attack Obama and not suffer for it?
"The president has been in office three years and his record is entirely fair game. I think the American people know his record is the worst we've seen since (Herbert) Hoover. I will be relentless in reminding Americans that (Obama) promised to hold unemployment below 8 percent, if we let him borrow $1 trillion. He did the borrowing, but unemployment has not been below 8 percent."
If elected, Romney promises to reduce the size of the federal workforce by 10 percent, largely through attrition. He would cut off foreign assistance to countries like China, which he says gets $27 million from the U.S. annually, and to nations that "oppose American interests."
But back to the reason so many conservatives are reluctant to trust him. I ask Romney to finish this sentence: "Conservatives will not be disappointed with me as president because..."
"Because I share your values," he says, "because I am a leader who knows how to get things done; because I love America and American principles with an unwavering and committed heart."
We'll see if that is enough for conservatives still hoping for an anti-Romney. The voting starts in Iowa in just over three weeks.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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