Republican lawmakers say Romney campaign needs to change course

Republican lawmakers are grumbling about the direction of Mitt Romney’s campaign and say he needs to change course.

The complaints come as polls show that Romney lost ground on President Obama following the party’s respective conventions in Tampa, Fla. and Charlotte, N.C.

The GOP members say Romney must do a better job of communicating to voters what to expect of him, either by making a bold pledge akin to George H.W. Bush’s 1988 “no new taxes” promise or fleshing policy proposals with more details.

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“Papa Bush was down after the Democratic convention in 1988, people worried he couldn’t come back and then he made his ‘read my lips, no new taxes’ pledge,” said one senator who requested anonymity.

The Republican said Romney should make a concise, bold promise to reform wasteful spending in Washington.

“He should say, ‘I’m a money manager and I will manage your money in Washington. I will eliminate waste, fraud and abuse. Obama wants you to send more money so he can spend more money.’”

Some GOP senators are worried that Romney has yet to give voters a clear vision of what to expect if he is to become president.


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Another GOP lawmaker said the aura Romney’s advisers are trying to create around the candidate has muddled the most compelling rationale for his candidacy: he is a no-nonsense problem-solver who can turn the economy around.

“My advice is don’t try to turn him into something he’s not,” said the senator. You’re never going to turn him into a teddy bear.

“He needs to say if you elect me, this is what you’re going to get, someone who’s going to bring common sense to the White House,” he said.

Lawmakers spoke to The Hill about Romney’s campaign on background to avoid publicly criticizing their party’s nominee.

The Romney campaign did not comment for this article.

Two legislators said Romney’s image as a seasoned Mr. Fix-it is undermined by the perceived vagueness of his policy agenda.

Romney has taken hits from conservative allies and media critics alike for not fleshing out his positions on tax reform, entitlement reform and the war in Afghanistan with more detail.

“If you’re going to bring it to the American people, you’ve got to show details,” said the lawmaker who questioned what he saw as efforts during the GOP convention to cast Romney as a warm and fuzzy candidate.  

Members of the tax-writing committees are pleased that Romney has limited his tax proposal to a broad sketch. This gives them more freedom to craft the details of a tax-code overhaul, just as Obama left Congress wide discretion to draft the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

But lawmakers who are more concerned about Romney’s campaign progress than protecting their turf, privately say the lack of detail on taxes could become a liability.

Another member said he fretted that middle-income voters may feel popular tax breaks such as the mortgage interest deduction under threat from Romney’s tax plan.

Romney’s performance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday failed to impress lawmakers who thought it lacked sufficient detail.

When pressed by host David Gregory about the details of his tax plan’s math, Romney answered vaguely.

“The specifics are these which is those principles I described are the heart of my policy,” he said. “And I’ve indicated as well that — that contrary to what the Democrats are saying, I’m not going to increase the tax burden on middle-income families. It would be absolutely wrong to do that.”

Romney did not help his relationship with GOP lawmakers by criticizing the deal they struck with Obama and Democrats to cut the deficit in exchange for raising the debt limit. It led to an awkward exchange between Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and reporters Tuesday.

“Look I don’t have any interest in getting into a debate with the nominee of our party,” McConnell said. “You’ll have to ask him why he said that.

GOP senators by and large agree with conservative pundits who have criticized Romney’s communications strategy.

The Weekly Standard published an open letter to Romney from contributor Peter J. Hansen urging him to be more specific in his policy prescriptions. Conservative media titan Rupert Murdoch this week tweeted: “Romney must draw clear line: offer specific path to restore American dream versus ugly Obama class war with jobs disappearing.”

Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan on Wednesday said Romney struck the wrong note by calling Obama’s response to the deadly attack on American diplomats in Libya “disgraceful.”

“I don’t think in his statement on what happened in Libya last night and in his remarks today I don’t think he did himself any favor.  At a moment of crisis like this, I think it’s kind of a water’s edge moment,” she said during an interview on WSJ Live.

“Romney looked weak today, I feel,” she added.

Senior Republicans did not rush to defend Romney’s slam of Obama in the midst of an international crisis. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, criticized Obama for having a “feckless foreign policy” but declined during an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show to comment on Romney’s response. Romney’s close ally Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), in an interview with CBS, backed Romney’s scolding of Obama. Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) also criticized the administration’s response to the attack in Libya.

Republican senators, even those who rank among his biggest supporters, have complained privately about the execution of his campaign.

“It could be better,” said one Senate supporter.

GOP senators have said for weeks that Romney would have a chance to gain traction in the race when he announced his vice presidential nominee and during the Tampa convention. With Election Day less than eight weeks away, however, Romney continues to trail Obama in national polls.

The GOP nominee has offered a 59-point economic plan and promised to create 12 million jobs. He has called for a stronger Navy and the elimination of dividend and capital gains taxes for middle-income families.

One GOP lawmaker said that Romney is behaving too cautiously by discussing few details about his plans for reforming the tax code and entitlement programs.

While Romney has embraced Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s budget plan, he has not offered an in-depth discussion of how he would implement Medicare reforms if elected. He added to confusion about his healthcare stance over the weekend by stating “I’m not getting rid of all of healthcare reform” after repeatedly calling for the repeal of “ObamaCare” earlier in his campaign.  

“He doesn’t want to piss people off,” said one Republican senator.

The lawmaker expressed concern that Romney’s refusal to release more than one year of tax records combined with the lack of detail in his tax plan could create an impression among voters that he has a hidden agenda. This has allowed Democrats to gain some traction with their charge that the Romney-Ryan plan would raise taxes on the middle class, the source said.

“You really have none that anyone can remember and that’s what people are telling you,” said a Republican aide when asked about Romney’s 59-point roadmap.

“One need not be overly specific but to rally the base and the American people there has to be some articulation of a vision of America in 2016,” said the aide. “Reagan was very clear.”

Reagan laid out his vision of tax cuts, a national anti-crime initiative and a military buildup during the 1980 Republican convention when he stressed family, neighborhood and peace and freedom.

“This convention has shown to all America a party united, with positive programs for solving the nation’s problems; a party ready to build a new consensus with all those across the land who share a community of values embodied in these words: family, work, neighborhood, peace and freedom,” he declared.

A GOP senator said he disagreed with his colleagues’ criticism. He said Romney should not offer more details for his tax plans because it would give the Obama campaign more ammunition for attacks.

The Republican senator said Romney has a chance to turn around the race during the October debates.

“The race will change when he shows he is presidential,” said the lawmaker.