“I don’t want it to sound like faint praise,” says Texas Congressman Blake Farenthold, a member of the Tea Party class of 2010 who stayed neutral during the party’s presidential primary, when I ask him about Mitt Romney. He repeats himself: “I don’t want it to sound like faint praise.”
Of course, that sounds exactly like the faint praise that many Republicans itching to beat Barack Obama, take the Senate, and build on their majority in the House are offering Romney. Farenthold said he was confident about maintaining “a Republican majority in the House as a backstop” no matter who wins the White House and keeping a potential President Romney “on the reservation.”
Newt Gingrich keeps ripping Mitt as a “Massachusetts moderate,” Rick Perry called him a “vulture capitalist,” and Rick Santorum said the health plan Romney signed into law as governor made him the godfather of Obamacare and unelectable because of it. The candidate who succeeded in uniting his rivals in the 2008 GOP field in The “I Hate Romney” Club has inspired similar anger this time around as his big-spending operation trashed each rising rival in turn. Past his primary rivals, Tea Party conservatives openly fretted during the contest that Romney’s conversion from moderate Massachusetts governor to “severely conservative” presidential candidate was less than genuine. That fear was summed up in a memorable joke by Santorum super-PAC funder Foster Friess:
“A liberal, a moderate, and a conservative walk into a bar. And the bartender says ‘Hello Mitt.' ”
Similarly, many conservative lawmakers still have a tough time finding anything nice to say about Romney.
Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe—who called Romney “mushy” during the primary and endorsed Rick Perry, whom he called by contrast “a conservative at heart”—now frames his support for Romney as a matter of beating Obama, which he calls “the best shot we’ve got to save America.” Romney has “passed the test” of working with conservatives, said Inhofe, who added that he’s “glad” that the advisers Romney’s “surrounding himself with aren’t mushy.”
Conservative House members sounded similar notes of resignation and lingering suspicion.
Doug Lamborn, a second-term congressman from Colorado, said Romney needs “to show he’s not a waffler or a compromiser.”
“You can’t only rely on people to be excited about you because they don’t like your opponent,” said Raul Labrador, a first-term representative from Idaho. “People have to be excited about you. They have to find a reason to campaign for you, to vote for you, to knock on doors for you.” He advised Romney “over the next few months to get the base just as excited as he’ll get everybody else.”
“We have to get rid of this president in order to save this country,” said freshman Tea Partier Jeff Landry of Louisiana.
Landry seems willing to settle for the fact that “he’ll agree with Mr. Romney more than I’ll disagree.” The Louisiana congressman looks at it philosophically, saying, “Even my wife and I don’t agree 100 percent of the time.”