Conservative elites have publicly scolded Mitt Romney in the past week for not being either tough or savvy enough to take on President Obama. At a town hall in Grand Junction, Colo., Tuesday questions from the audience suggested the rest of the base might share those concerns.
Romney’s very first question was from an audience member who wanted to know how the nominee would combat attacks in the media — and suggesting the pugnacious Rep. Allen West (R-FL) as a running mate for that very reason.
“We need a fighter,” the questioner said. “I’ve been listening to Allen West talk. He’d make a great VP. He’s a fighter and that’s what we want.”
Romney replied that “all suggestions were welcome,” and said he was thankful that the media now included many friendly outlets he could go through to bypass the major networks and papers. As for Obama, Romney said that “all they’re doing is attacking on every diversion they can come up with,” and said he hoped the president’s campaign would become more substantive.
Another questioner wanted to know how Romney would be able to debate Obama on health care given the similarities between their health care laws, another sensitive spot for Romney. He too offered some advice for how Romney could improve his standing.
“In the debates, I’m sure you’re gonna be hammered about what the other team likes to call RomneyCare, but why don’t you make the point that that’s what the people of Massachusetts put you in there to do and you did what the people of Massachusetts wanted you to do and didn’t force it down somebody’s throat?” he asked.
Romney suggested he generally agreed with the point.
“I sure hope the president brings it up, because I’ll point out the differences between what he did and what I did,” Romney said. He noted that his own law passed nearly unanimously while Obama’s law attracted no Republican votes.
“The business community, the labor community, the advocates for the poor, all came together and said this is a good step forward,” he said. “Not perfect by a long, long measure — by the way, I vetoed a number of measures in the bill and those weren’t upheld — but, nonetheless, it was something we worked out for our own state.”
The Wall Street Journal last week criticized Romney in an editorial for lacking a clear explanation of how his Massachusetts law is different than the president’s and for being “slow to respond” to attacks.
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.