Mitt Romney gave compelling speeches at Liberty University and in Iowa. He delivered a stem-winder on education. He has a tax reform, a Medicare reform and energy policies praised by free-market advocates. He has echoed Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in contrasting a government-centric society and an opportunity society. He has defended capitalism on moral grounds.
But Jon Ward’s report on some conservatives’ grumbling about him suggests they haven’t be listening that hard or won’t be mollified no matter what he says. This suggests that even in times of plenty and when the Republican base has rallied to his side, conservative media remain grumpy.
Ward writes: “It’s something of an odd time for conservatives to be calling on Romney to take more risks and to do something different. He’s had a good run of late. The Obama campaign continues to search for its footing, thrown off balance by a declining economic picture and by an odd pattern of its own prominent surrogates undermining its message. Romney’s favorable ratings with voters are climbing, though he still has high negatives. Some observers now think the election is possibly Romney’s to lose.” He then lists a series of prominent conservative who complain that Romney doesn’t have a big-picture vision. This follows a period when he was dinged for not being specific enough. Go figure.
Romney gave just such a big-picture speech yesterday. He declared:
America is rightly heralded as the greatest experiment in self-governance in world history. We are all here today because of a startling conviction that free individuals could join together to decide their fate and that more freedom made us all stronger.
Our example — and commitment — to freedom has changed the world. But along with the genius of our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights, is the equal genius of our economic system. Our Founding Fathers endeavored to create a moral and just society like no other in history, and out of that grew a moral and just economic system the likes of which the world had never seen. Our freedom, what it means to be an American, has been defined and sustained by the liberating power of the free enterprise system.
That same system has helped lift more people out of poverty across the globe than any government program or competing economic system. The success of America’s free enterprise system has been a bright beacon of freedom for the world. It has signaled to oppressed people to rise up against their oppressors, and given hope to the once hopeless.
It is called the Free Enterprise System because we are both free to engage in enterprises and through those enterprises we ensure our freedom.
But sadly, it has become clear that this President simply doesn’t understand or appreciate these fundamental truths of our system. Over the last three and a half years, record numbers of Americans have lost their jobs or simply disappeared from the work force. Record numbers of Americans are living in poverty today — over 46 million of our fellow Americans are living below the poverty line.
This is not just a failure of policy; it is a moral failure of tragic proportions. Our government has an absolute moral commitment to help every American help themselves and today, that fundamental commitment has been broken.
Romney sounds rather Ryan-esque (“In a free-enterprise system, we don’t measure our success in equal outcomes, but instead in how well we preserve and promote the equality of opportunity. And this system has resulted in unrivaled prosperity and made America the greatest nation in history.”) But there are few cheers from the right-leaning media.
It is not as if there aren’t grounds for criticism of the Romney campaign. But these critics aren’t focused, for example, on his on-again-off-again attention to foreign policy (as we have) or his shying away from immigration reform (which we have encouraged). Instead they seem like shoppers intent on convincing themselves not to make purchase. (Too bright. No, too dull.)
Certainly the right-leaning coverage is not overtly hostile, as it was often during the primary. Romney is definitely reaching out, doing more media. But the relationship is not, in many quarters, warm.
Many in the right blogosphere vigorously opposed Romney. Some want to show they can mold Romney to their liking. And, after all, it is the nature of political punditry to be critical and even ornery. There has been widespread doubt on the right that Romney could win, so the “safe” course has been to pile up the criticism, laying down a marker for the “I told you so” games that would follow a loss.
But now Romney is on a roll with the Wisconsin recall victory, besting Obama’s May fundraising numbers, good polls and a series of clumsy missteps by the president. As Mark Halprin and Elizabeth Dias put it: “With five months until Election Day, Barack Obama faces a grim new reality: Republicans now believe Mitt Romney can win, and Democrats believe Obama can lose.”
The mainstream media sense it as well, and they have begun mocking and dinging the Obama campaign. Just like political donors, the media have been known to put their fingers in the wind and adjust their behavior and opinions accordingly.
Some of that recalibrating (with an eye toward a potential Romney win) can be expected on the right as well. It’s human nature. Everyone likes a winner. And as Ward pointed out, it’s hard to quibble with success. So the grumbling may soften, and Romney may get the grudging respect of the conservative punditocracy. But don’t bet on it. They’ve got a lot of ego invested in complaining about the not extremely right-wingy former Massachusetts governor. But if he wins, all will be forgiven. If he loses, the conservative pundits will be the first to tell you they knew it all along.