Talk about your unforced errors.
Former Mass Gov. Mitt Romney stopped by a phone bank staffed by Republican faithful today to cheer on their efforts trying to stop the repeal of SB 5. The bill curtails collective bargaining rights. Supporters say the law is necessary to contain the state budget, and is set to face a referendum vote on November 8th. The bill was passed by the Republican Legislature, signed by the Republican Governor, and has the support of many conservative groups who are on the ground in Ohio trying to stave off the repeal vote.
So when Romney showed up to rally the pro-SB 5 political operation, it was a bit of a shock to conservatives who have been working to stop repeal when he said the following, picked up by CNN:
“I am not speaking about the particular ballot issues,” Romney said, only after repeated questions from reporters. “Those are up to the people of Ohio. But I certainly support the efforts of the governor to rein in the scale of government. I am not terribly familiar with the two ballot initiatives. But I am certainly supportive of the Republican Party’s efforts here.”
Not exactly what they wanted to hear.
“Certainly if one of the Presidential candidates were to go to the state, show up, and were asked about it, we’d expect them to be supportive of both efforts,” said Brendan Steinhauser, the Federal and State Campaigns Director at FreedomWorks in an interview with TPM. “This is a no brainer for any of the Presidential candidates to get behind. We’re disappointed but not surprised in Romney’s lack of support.”
For their part, the Romney campaign maintained that he was staying out of the SB 5 debate. Campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul offered the following response via email when asked by TPM whether the former Gov. supports keeping SB 5 in place: “Gov. Romney believes that the citizens of states should be able to make decisions about important matters of policy that affect their states on their own,” she wrote.
It gave the conservative website Red State the opportunity to go off on the Romney campaign:
“This is a huge freaking deal,” wrote Red State founder Erick Erickson. “Playing it too safe is finally biting Romney in the rear end. He’s refused to call social security a Ponzi scheme. He’s refused to offer bold economic reform plans. He’s refused to address significant changes in entitlement reforms. His whole campaign has centered around tapioca.”
The conservative Club for Growth didn’t mention any food products, but they didn’t seem pleased by the turn of events in Ohio either. Greg Sargent at the Washington Post picked up the statement of Barney Keller, the CFG’s spokesperson:
“The big problem many conservatives have with Mitt Romney is that he’s taken both sides of nearly every issue important to us. He’s against a flat tax, now he’s for it. He says he’s against ObamaCare, but was for the individual mandate and subsidies that are central to ObamaCare. He thinks that collective bargaining issues should be left for states to decide if he’s Ohio, but he took the opposite position when he was in New Hampshire. This is just another statement in a long line of statements that will raise more doubts about what kind of President Mitt Romney would be in the minds of many Republican primary voters.”
Steinhauser, who is quarterbacking an effort through Freedomworks to stop the repeal in Ohio, said this isn’t going to help Romney with the grassroots conservative activists that are currently making phone calls and knocking on doors in support of SB 5.
“They are not going to forget this,” Steinhauser said. “These guys are organized, they are working very hard. They’ve made thousands of phone calls, put up the yard signs. They’ve done the groundwork. And when they see Romney not support them, anyone who was supporting him in the election will certainly think twice about it in Ohio.”
“Certainly it shows a lack of principle,” he said. “It shows a lack of embracing good ideas.”
Update: Texas Gov. Rick Perry has now weighed in on former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney’s non-endorsement of a GOP-backed effort to keep SB 5, the Ohio law that curtails collective bargaining rights.
Via CNN: “As a true conservative, I stand with Gov. Kasich in promoting S.B.5 for fiscal responsibility and job creation in Ohio,” Perry said in a statement to CNN. “Gov. Kasich and the Republican leadership of Ohio are to be commended for their efforts.”
Added Perry, “My record as a pro-jobs governor is clear and you don’t have to wonder where I stand.”
Later update: Perry campaign Communications Director Ray Sullivan sends the following statement:
“Mitt Romney’s finger-in-the-wind politics continued today when he refused to support right-to-work reforms signed by Ohio Governor John Kasich - reforms Romney supported in June. Americans are tired of politicians who change their beliefs to match public opinion polls. Mitt Romney has a long record of doing this on issues like government-mandated health care and the Obama stimulus. Mitt Romney needs to realize that when you try to stand on both sides of an issue, you stand for nothing.”
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.