Unease Resurfaces on Romney's Right Flank

Unease Resurfaces on Romney's Right Flank

By Scott Conroy - August 10, 2012

Lingering concerns among prominent conservatives about Mitt Romney's ideological dependability have boiled over once again, forcing the White House hopeful to walk a fine line between satisfying his base and appealing to the independent voters who are likely to decide the election's outcome.

The latest flare-up was triggered by comments Romney’s press secretary, Andrea Saul, made Wednesday on Fox News. Saul was responding to a pro-Obama super PAC’s controversial new TV ad that draws a tenuous connection between Bain Capital’s decision to close a steel plant and the cancer death of the wife of a fired employee, who lost his health insurance along with his job.

“If people had been in Massachusetts under Gov. Romney’s health care plan, they would’ve had health care,” Saul said. “There are a lot of people losing their jobs and losing their health care in President Obama’s economy, and that’s why Gov. Romney is running to get people back to work.”

Those remarks are in keeping with Romney’s long-stated defense of the universal health care law he championed in Massachusetts. For years, the candidate has resisted calls from conservatives to disown it, arguing that the plan was an appropriate action for an individual state to take, despite its many similarities with the national health care law that Obama helped push through Congress.

But Saul’s comments sparked an immediate, and at times apoplectic, response among several of the most well-known voices in the conservative media.

“OMG. This might just be the moment Mitt Romney lost the election,” Red State’s Erick Erickson tweeted with a link to a news story about Saul’s remarks. “Wow.”

On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh decried Saul’s comments as a “potential gold mine for Obama supporters,” and Ann Coulter was particularly irate during an appearance with Sean Hannity on Fox News.

“Anyone who donates to Mitt Romney, and I mean the big donors, ought to say, ‘If Andrea Saul isn’t fired and off the campaign tomorrow, they are not giving another dime,’ ” Coulter said. “There’s no point in you doing your show, there’s no point in going to the convention and pushing for this man if he’s employing morons like this.”

But Saul wasn’t the only member of the Romney campaign talking publicly about his Massachusetts health care plan on Wednesday.

During a speech in Iowa, the presumptive nominee himself referred to his foremost legislative achievement as governor, suggesting that his experience in tackling the issue in Massachusetts would pay dividends when addressing it again at the national level.

“We’ve got to do reforms in health care, and I have some experience doing that, as you know,” Romney said. “And I know how to make a better setting than the one we have in health care.”

The backlash on the right comes at a time when several conservative media outlets have become increasingly vocal about whom Romney should choose as his running mate.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board and the National Review’s Rich Lowry jumped on the growing bandwagon of support on the right for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, whose suitability for the No. 2 spot on the Republican ticket has also been touted by The Weekly Standard.

In a piece for Politico, Lowry alluded to lingering trepidation over the direction of Romney’s campaign, a concern that other conservative observers have also raised publicly.

“At times over the past few months, it has seemed that the Romney campaign has embarked on audacious experiment to see if it’s possible to run a presidential campaign devoid of real interest,” Lowry wrote. “With the choice of Ryan, that would change in an instant.”

Romney’s selection of a running mate could indicate the extent of his concern over these ripples of discontent. A so-called “bold” choice like Ryan would likely quiet the murmurs that have sometimes escalated into shouts, as occurred in response to Saul’s comments. Still, the complicated set of political calculations involved in choosing a VP candidate could just as easily lead Romney elsewhere. 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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