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Tension between Romney and conservative stalwarts resurfaces

 

Latent conservative trepidation toward Mitt Romney has resurfaced to a degree in recent days as it relates to the presumptive GOP nominee's search for a running mate and renewed defense of health reform in Massachusetts.

Prominent voices on the right have begun urging Romney to settle on a "bold" choice as his running mate, specifically Wisconsin GOP Rep. Paul Ryan, the author of an ambitious budget proposal that has made him a darling among conservatives.

Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney waves to people gathered across the street as he leaves a finance event Aug. 9 in New York.

Separately, the campaign is weathering a minor conservative uproar associated with a spokeswoman's response to a critical ad from a pro-Obama super PAC that suggested Romney was indirectly responsible for a woman's cancer death because her husband lost his insurance after his Bain-owned employer laid him off.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd and Charlie Cook join a Morning Joe panel to discuss who Mitt Romney will pick as his running mate.

"To that point, you know, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care," the spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, said Wednesday on Fox News in reference to the health reform law Massachusetts enacted while Romney was governor.

The comment earned an immediate rebuke from activist conservatives who had expressed concern about Romney's ability to argue the case against President Obama's health care law because of its similarities to the Massachusetts reforms.

RedState's Erick Erickson said it was "the moment all the doubts about Romney resurfaced on the right," while conservative columnist Ann Coulter called for the spokeswoman's firing.

"It takes a Republican candidate who's willing to put the fists out there and fight back hard. The response, for example, to this lying, smearing super PAC ad accusing Romney of a murder is not to talk about Romneycare," Michelle Malkin said Wednesday evening on Fox News. "It's to talk about the Obama jobs death toll and the Beltway jobs massacre and the thousands of real workers out there who have had their pensions and health care stripped."

It underscored the tenuous relationship Romney has had with his party's stalwarts, whom he struggled to charm throughout the Republican primary earlier this year.

While Republicans have largely rallied around Romney, his relationship with the right seems to be mostly a marriage of convenience -- one in which Romney represents the best, if imperfect, chance to defeat President Barack Obama in November.

To that end, the June NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll contained a telling statistic: 58 percent of registered voters who said they planned to vote for Romney said their vote was more about voting against Obama. Thirty-five percent said their vote was mostly in favor of Romney.

It's also emblematic of the current split within the GOP between activists who favor a more strongly ideological approach and those who wish to wed political strategy with policy goals. Romney, to many conservatives, firmly represents the latter approach.

 

That sentiment has manifested itself in some conservatives' demand that Romney put forth a more digestible jobs plan, or use more aggressive rhetoric toward Obama. It's also contributed to a growing drumbeat in favor of putting Ryan on the GOP ticket.

 

"Romney has to carry the argument to President Barack Obama. The state of the economy alone isn’t enough to convince people that Romney has better ideas to create jobs. Neither is his résumé," National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote Wednesday in Politico. "Romney needs to make the case for his program, and perhaps no one is better suited to contribute to this effort than Ryan."

 

Agitation in favor of someone like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie points toward the same sentiment, too. Some conservatives are looking for a pick that would plainly and forcefully make the case for an alternative conservative vision to Obama's.

 

It's one of the reasons that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker emerged as such a hero to Republicans. His collective-bargaining reforms in Wisconsin were nothing short of audacious, but he survived a recall effort with even more political capital. And now Walker, and other policy gurus like Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, have in recent months pressed Romney to offer a more affirmative policy agenda.

 

Whether Romney can quell this eternal tension on the right is a question that might never have an answer. He has shown the capacity, though, to rally the GOP behind his candidacy in certain instances. It might just be that the most unifying element on the right stems from attacks from Obama or negative media coverage.

 

The original Priorities USA ad, for instance, has done almost as much to unite appalled conservatives as anything else the former Massachusetts governor's campaign has done.

 

Look no further for evidence than this morning's Republican National Committee conference call in which Romney's primary campaign nemesis, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, declined to relitigate his primary campaign criticism of Romney as the worst possible candidate to take on Obama on the issue of health care.

 

"You talk about contempt? That was a contemptible ad. The facts clearly do not support what that ad was all about," Santorum said.

 

"All I can say is Gov. Romney is going to be a far superior candidate on the issue of health care than Barack Obama," Santorum added. "The differences between Gov. Romney and me in the primary really fall to the wayside when it comes to differences between the Republican nominee, Gov. Romney, and Barack Obama."