Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a longtime party stalwart, is still not sold on Mitt Romney’s conservative credentials, even if he’s feeling better about his chances of taking the White House.
Rebutting fellow ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s recent claim that the party had moved so far to the right that President Ronald Reagan and his own father, President George H.W. Bush, would be heretics today, Barbour said Romney proves that is not the case.
“There are a lot of people in the Republican Party who are not that conservative, including our nominee for president,” Barbour told a group of reporters Friday at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “He was the least conservative of the candidates and he won the nomination with the party totally united behind him.”
Barbour, who seriously considered a run for president this cycle himself, has never been considered a fan of Romney during the primary process. Nonetheless, he is now raising money to help support Romney’s bid for conservative big-money group American Crossroads. But he admitted that Romney’s less-than-stellar conservative record, as he sees it, might be a general election gift as the nominee seems more comfortable tacking to the center today than he did tacking to the right in the primaries as the base “tried on every other slipper” before finally settling on him.
“In that sense, it may turn out to be advantageous that he became the nominee because the vote that is sought after is closer to where he is on the ideological spectrum than where Haley is on the ideological spectrum,” Barbour said.
While Barbour said that Romney was currently in a better position than many within his party expected even a few months ago, he warned that the election was still very fluid with long stretches left for either side to decisively define the other. He volunteered scenarios in which Romney won big and brought Republican majorities in the House and Senate with him, but also entertained the possibility that his campaign might crash spectacularly and flip the House in the process.
“If they’re able to do to Romney what they did to Dole in ‘96 what they did to Goldwater in ‘64 then you have that risk,” Barbour said.
Barbour warned that Democrats would “carpet bomb” Romney with ads, mostly focused on defining him as out of touch, callous, and greedy.
“It’s not going to be big on policy,” he said. “It’s going to be personal. ‘He doesn’t care about people like you, he’s not like us, he’s mean to his dog, he’s married to a well-certified equestrian.’”
Barbour suggested the campaign play up Romney’s considerable charitable donations over the years to help boost his likability and ward off Democratic attacks portraying him as a penny-pinching profit machine in the mold of ‘The Simpsons” Montgomery Burns.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.