They Said What? Romney’s Foes Are on the GOP Roster
Policy + Politics

They Said What? Romney’s Foes Are on the GOP Roster

Reuters/Getty Images/iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

Here are a few things you’re not likely to hear about presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this week:

  • “He’s not telling the American people the truth. I just think he ought to be honest to the American people and try to win as the real Mitt Romney, not try to invent a poll-driven, consultant-guided version that goes around with talking points.”
  • “ He is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama . . .  .He created the blueprint for Obamacare and advocated for exactly what Obamacare is, which is a mandated health insurance program....He is uniquely disqualified."
  • “Governor Romney has taken two positions on every issue – at least two – and his record as governor was far left. He told Ted Kennedy when he was in debate with him [for the Senate] that he didn’t want to go back to the Reagan years.”

The first blast was from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich back in January on CBS’s “The Early Show,” just before the Iowa caucuses. Gingrich had grown frustrated and angry after falling behind in the polls in the face of an onslaught of negative advertising by Romney forces. The second salvo was launched by former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., at the Faith and Freedom Coalition rally in Waukesha, Wisc., on March 31.  Santorum, too, grew bitter about the high-priced negative advertising by Romney that thwarted his bid to overtake the former governor and business executive.

The third was from Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona during the 2008 Republican presidential primary, when Romney was still nipping at McCain’s heels in early February. McCain went on to lock up the nomination, but not before tarring Romney as a flip flopper, panderer and phony conservative.

Remarkably, all three have been given prime-time speaking roles this week during the three nights of GOP convention, as the Romney forces seek to unify the fractious party and focus on defeating President Obama this fall. 

There is nothing unusual about political parties pulling together and joining hands after the fire works of a tough primary season. But the 2012 Republican presidential primary was an unusually ugly affair that had as much to do with personal vendettas and intentional distortions of records as it had to do with issues like jobs, the economy and foreign policy. Still, most of the also-rans managed to put their bitterness behind them.

“Well, if they were uncomfortable with inconsistency they wouldn’t have entered politics in the first place,” said John J. Pitney Jr., a professor of politics at the Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. “Politicians often make dramatic turnarounds, particularly when it comes to preserving their own viability. This is something they have to do. Otherwise, they become pariahs in the party. Santorum probably would like to run again and Gingrich wants to maintain elder statesman status.”

McCain, a Vietnam War hero and prominent GOP lawmaker, showed disdain for Romney in 2008, saying he knew “nothing about national security relatively speaking” and was pandering to the auto industry in Detroit and the ethanol industry in Iowa.  The two men buried the hatchet after McCain won the nomination but then lost to Obama. This year, McCain campaigned for Romney in New Hampshire and Arizona. He is now scheduled to speak at the convention Wednesday night, just before Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio make their appearances.

Making peace with Gingrich and Santorum proved to be more difficult. Both Gingrich and Santorum  blew their fuses after being repeatedly bludgeoned by political ads aired by Romney’s campaign and Super PAC. The animosity seethed for a long time, and both men openly called Romney a liar who couldn’t be trusted.

“If you've been campaigning for six years and you begin to see it slip away, you get desperate,” Gingrich said of Romney at the Mango church in Tampa on Jan. 24. “And when you get desperate, you say almost anything. This is such baloney. Now, it used to be pious baloney, but now it's just desperate baloney. So, that's the succession of this campaign. We've moved from Romney's pious baloney to Romney's desperate baloney. As president he could open a delicatessen."

Gingrich was slow to get out of the race, even when it became clear he had no chance of winning and had run up substantial debt. Now he and his wife Callista are scheduled to speak at the convention Thursday evening to introduce a tribute to Ronald Reagan, just hours before Romney will deliver his acceptance speech.

On Monday, Gingrich told Chris Matthews of MSNBC what changed his mind about Romney. “I think the reelection of Barack Obama is a disaster for this country, and I think that Romney is far better for this country.”

Santorum was even angrier with Romney, if that was possible, and vowed to stay in campaign to the bitter end, arguing that he was the one true conservative remaining in the field who could lead the party to victory over Obama. Ignorning his losses in April to Romney in Maryland, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia earlier in the day, Santorum told loyalists who gathered in Mars, Pa, that their party was doomed to defeat this fall if it once again nominated a moderate like Romney to challenge a sitting Democratic president.

“Time and time again the Republican establishment and aristocracy have shoved down the throats of the Republican Party and people across this country, moderate Republicans,” Santorum said. “Because of course we have to win by getting people in the middle. There's one person who understood, we don't win by moving to the middle. We win by getting people in the middle to move to us and move this country forward.”

But in the end, Santorum’s pragmatic side won out. After endorsing Romney in May in a late-night email that some described as half-hearted, Santorum waited more than two months to attend an event in support of Romney. Since being invited to speak at the Republican convention, Santorum has followed Romney's lead in attacking the Obama administration on welfare and other issues in appearances in Iowa, South Carolina and other states where his message of traditional values is warmly received.

Santorum is scheduled to speak Tuesday evening right after House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and will host a reception in honor of Romney that will gather together leading social conservatives such as James Dobson, Ralph Reed and Tony Perkins.

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty was tough on Romney until he dropped out of the race late last summer. He sharply criticized Romney for his role in enacting health care reform in Massachusetts that became a template for Obama’s national health care reforms.

“Well, I don’t think you can prosecute the political case against President Obama if you are a co-conspirator in one of the main charges against the president on the political level,” Pawlenty told Sean Hannity on Fox News on June 13. 2011. zz

After dropping out of the race following a disastrous showing in an Iowa Republican straw poll, Pawlenty campaigned tirelessly for Romney and ended up on the short list of candidates to be his vice presidential running mate. He lost out to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin for that honor, but he will also be speaking Wednesday night at the convention.

“Hypocrisy is the lifeblood of politics,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. “What else can you say? In a sense, hypocrisy of this sort is required to keep a party unified. It isn't pretty and it generates derision. On the other hand, Newt, Rick, and John can defend their actions as comparative shopping. For them, Romney vs. Obama is no contest.”

One exception to all of this is Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., a libertarian who mounted a well organized  and well financed campaign for president in which he vowed to eliminate the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Reserve banking system  while opposing  U.S. intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. Paul addressed nearly 10,000 mostly youthful supporters inside the Sun Dome at the University of South Florida on Sunday, but he is not scheduled to speak at the convention – reportedly, because he has refused to formally endorse Romney.

At another rally on Sunday at a Tampa church, two other also-rans – Herman Cain and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of several hundred Tea Party supporters. Neither has any role at the GOP convention.

“There were some people who hoped you wouldn’t show up,” said Cain, a former pizza chain executive, according to the New York Times. “Y’all fooled them.”