DOVER, N.H. — Jack Kimball has a message for the Romney-Ryan campaign: “I think it’s time to take the gloves off.”
Kimball is the tea-party-backed former New Hampshire Republican Party chairman who resigned last year amid pressure from members of his party. He made an unexpected appearance Tuesday morning in the crowd at Paul Ryan’s second solo town hall meeting.
At a moment when the Romney-Ryan campaign is weathering a tough several weeks due to a series of unforced errors — including Romney’s statement criticizing Obama in the wake of last week’s attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in the Middle East and the release on Monday of a video showing Romney appearing to write off the “47 percent” of Americans who pay zero income tax — Kimball’s advice might seem counterintuitive.
But if the New Hampshire crowd’s standing ovation for Kimball’s suggestion was anything to go by, take the gloves off — and continue to make remarks that rally the GOP base — is precisely what supporters want the Romney-Ryan ticket to do.
“The country is thirsting for this, believe me,” Kimball, a businessman who chairs the Granite State Patriots Liberty PAC, told the cheering crowd at McConnell Community Center. “All of the people in here are thirsting for this in the Live Free or Die State, and all the prior military men and active-duty folks are thirsting for this.”
He added: “You’ve got six or seven weeks. We know you can do it. We know we have it in us, and we have to have the two of you in office, there’s no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
Several attendees at Tuesday’s town hall meeting expressed agreement with Romney’s “47 percent” remark. Others said they had no opinion on the statement. But none expressed the kind of criticism of the remark that has been prevalent in national media coverage in the nearly 24 hours since the Romney fundraiser video became public.
That would suggest that for all the backlash among pundits for the campaign’s recent missteps, Romney’s statements on the Middle East demonstrations and those who pay no income tax could help him energize members of the GOP base.
Might Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, and his running mate, then, take Kimball’s advice and double down on the heated rhetoric?
There have been signs that they already are. Romney last week followed up his criticism of the Obama administration’s response to the attacks in Libya and Egypt with an even more critical statement the next day.
And at Tuesday’s town hall, Ryan appeared to tread carefully between appealing to the many tea party supporters in the crowd and not carrying his criticism of Obama out of bounds.
One woman in the crowd introduced herself as a registered independent who “wasn’t too sure about the Romney ticket” but decided to back Romney and Ryan because “I decided that I want Obama out.” She cited the Supreme Court’s ruling on the national health-care law and told Ryan, “I was again shocked and disillusioned, thinking, ‘Are we going to turn into a socialistic country?’ I’m terrified. I really am.”
Ryan nodded as the woman spoke, then responded: “I understand exactly what you’re saying.”
He went on to reprise a line about Obama that he and Romney have often used on the trail, imploring the audience to “imagine what he will do just in implementing the rest of Obamacare if he never has to ever face a voter ever again and he gets reelected.”
“It just puts a chill down the spine,” Ryan said.
Another man in the crowd stood up and prefaced his question by asking, “What’s wrong with the Obama economy? It is, I would say, everything.”
“He’s devastating our economy and this nation, and I think he’s doing it intentionally,” the man said.
Ryan again stood and nodded as the man finished his question, which was about zoning issues; then he gave a response that centered on the “desire of the administration to more federalize those things like zoning and building codes that are more left to local government.”
Several times in his remarks — more than he typically has done at recent events on the trail — Ryan referred to the notion of government dependency, the concept on which Romney was expounding when he made his ill-fated fundraiser remarks.
He told the crowd that he and Romney are concerned about “more and more people becoming net dependent upon the government than upon themselves, because by promoting more dependency, by not having jobs and economic growth, people miss their potential.”
“We should not be measuring the progress of our social programs, of programs like food stamps, based upon how many people receive them,” he said to cheers. “We should be measuring the progress of our social programs by how many people we transition off of them into lives of self-sufficiency and jobs and upward mobility. . . . So our goal, our mission is to address the root causes of poverty instead of simply treating the symptoms of poverty.”
There were also two other noteworthy aspects of Tuesday’s town hall. It featured a giant debt clock such as the one on display at last month’s GOP national convention. And the town hall marked the second Ryan event in recent days at which a biographical video of Romney was played. The widely-hailed video was played at the Tampa convention but was shown too early to make it into the networks’ prime-time coverage — a point that some GOP donors have griped about in the weeks since the convention.
Whether or not Ryan’s town hall remarks were a subtle pivot to appeal to the GOP base remains an open question, as is the potential impact of doubling down on Romney’s recent remarks. (Polls have shown this week that Romney’s criticism of Obama in the wake of last week’s attacks, for instance, was unpopular among the broader American public.)
But some of those present on Tuesday said that — contrary to what pundits and others have said — they believe more tough rhetoric from Romney is exactly what his campaign needs right now.
“I’m afraid he needs to be a little bit more aggressive,” Janet Leary, a 67-year-old retired registered nurse and lifelong Republican from Kingston, N.H., said of Romney. “Obama’s coming on strong now.”
Leary noted that two of her relatives are out of work and struggling to find jobs. “He really needs to push the point that we’re not better off,” she said of Romney.
Kimball, for his part, said in an interview after the event that Romney’s remarks on last week’s attacks abroad are the type of message that the campaign needs to focus on making.
“A good example and a tangible example would be Mitt Romney’s commentary after the murders at the embassy,” Kimball said when asked how, in particular, Romney and Ryan should “take the gloves off.”
“His commentary was right on, as far as I was concerned. He got heavily criticized by the press on that. I watched that whole thing. . . . Any of the things that clearly are things that they disagree with with the administration, to come out forcefully and let everybody know – not only to be against them, but what they would do differently,” he added.
Asked about Romney’s fundraiser comments, Kimball said that he hoped that some in the “47 percent” would think about supporting Romney.
“I really feel strongly that you have a very smart man in Mitt Romney,” he said. “He understand that there’s limited time left in this campaign. He understands where the focus needs to be.”