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article imageOp-Ed: Flip-Flops, Trust Underscore Mitt Romney's Credibility Gap

By Sadiq Green     Nov 6, 2011 in Politics
Mitt Romney may be the favorite of the most powerful Republican insiders, but grabbing hold of the GOP’s grassroots advocates – the Tea Party - may hold the key to his success in the race for the Republican Presidential nomination.
The race for the hearts and minds of voters in the early Republican primary states remains up for grabs. And although he is widely considered the insiders choice, much of the 2012 conversation about Mitt Romney is of how vulnerable he is, how far he has to go to close the deal with voters, and who might emerge – or re-emerge - to become a viable alternative to him.
So far, no one else has come close to replacing him. Herman Cain remains high in the polls, despite his disastrous week, but to many is not seen as presidential. Texas Governor Rick Perry has to make up a lot of lost ground with Republican primary voters in convincing them that he is someone they should support. His performance in the debates may have eliminated him from consideration. And while Perry might have benefited this week from Cain dominating the news, Romney came out the real winner by staying out of the fray.
The former Massachusetts governor routinely takes fire from all directions as Republican presidential primary rivals and Democrats hit him repeatedly for is propensity for flip-flopping. However, hypocrisy is such a common trait in Republicans; they rarely are penalized for it sometimes even receive a boost in the polls.
Former Utah Gov. and fellow Republican nomination candidate Jon Huntsman called Romney a "perfectly lubricated weather vane," and Huntsman's presidential campaign sent around a video montage of Romney taking different positions in the past on issues such as abortion and gun rights. Conservative columnist George Will dubbed Romney "the pretzel candidate," slapped him around for shifting stances on ethanol subsidies and Ohio's collective bargaining law, and said that Romney is "a recidivist reviser of his principles who is ... becoming less electable." The Democratic National Committee (DNC) created a 30-second video that they posted to their website devoted to driving the message that Romney is a shape-shifter:
"Like it or not, the governor has been on opposite sides of a lot of issues." - Texas Gov. Rick Perry
Romney for his part shows no signs of worry in relation to his straddling. He remains upbeat and projects confidence. Yet a disconnect remains between him and Republican primary voters who often express anxiety about the future of the country in their questions to Romney. Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, who endorsed Romney last week, downplayed any need for Romney to forge a more personal connection with voters. He just needs to "keep on plugging," Sununu said.
"This country has been screwed by a president that got his votes emotionally. This country needs a president that's smart enough to do the right thing. That's why I endorsed Romney," – John Sununu
No one seems to know who the real Mitt Romney is. Republicans are wary because he seems to want so badly to be president that he falls all over himself while switching from one side of an issue to the other. Republican strategists also see Mitt Romney’s lack of support from the Tea Party as one of his biggest weaknesses, one he might not be unable to overcome due to a lack of trust from the conservative grassroots movement. Tea Party leaders, have expressed their doubts about the former Massachusetts governor’s conservative credentials and his courtship of their followers.
“It’s not that the Tea Party movement doesn’t think he’s conservative enough, it’s just the Tea Party movement has no ability to trust the positions he’s espousing are principled positions that he actually agrees in,” Dustin Stockton, communications director for
Other Tea Party leaders agree.
Judson Phillips, the founder of influential group Tea Party Nation, slammed Romney’s “political tone-deafness” when it comes to the movement, criticizing him for a politically based motivation for belatedly reaching out to members.
“He’d become a Tea Party hero if he’d withdraw.” – Judson Phillips
Romney addressed his lack of support from Tea Party groups during an August debate when asked whether he considered himself a “card-carrying member” of the movement. “If the Tea Party is for keeping government small and spending down and helping us create jobs, then hey, I’m for the Tea Party,” Romney answered.
Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said a lack of Tea Party support is Romney’s biggest weakness as a candidate, especially in comparison to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, his chief competition in the polls.
“Tea Party support is largely lining up behind Perry right now because they identify with him. Romney’s strategy to cut into that is to highlight Perry’s unelectability.” – Ron Bonjean
In addition to the flip-flop issue, healthcare will remain a huge stumbling block to Romney’s ability to win Tea Party support. One major catalyst for the formation of the movement was President Obama’s healthcare reform legislation, which was derived from legislation Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts. If Romney has run away from his bold idea, what else is he going to do? So far he appears to be running on denying everything he's ever said?
Chipping away at Perry’s support might not swing the Tea Party vote to Romney, however. “The people in this movement are all about individual freedom,” said Amy Kremer of Tea Party Express, who predicts that most self-identified Tea Party voters are still making up their minds and have not necessarily coalesced around Romney or Perry.
“We believe we’re going to be the ones to decide who the next Republican candidate’s going to be. They can’t win this nomination without the support of this movement.” – Amy Kremer, Tea Party Express
With the Republican nominating contest looking more like a circus, Romney doesn't act or sound like a lunatic or an entertainer, so he remains out front. The fact that he's a flip flopper pales to the antics of Bachmann, Perry, or Cain. If he can manage to stay under the radar, he may very well end up winning the nomination, and more importantly Tea Party support, by default.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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