Conservatives cheer on Romney as establishment field grows

  • By STEVE PEOPLES and BILL BARROW
  • Wednesday, January 14, 2015 4:38pm
  • Opinion

SAN DIEGO — Mitt Romney’s unexpected step into the 2016 presidential contest is drawing enthusiasm from the GOP’s most passionate conservatives.

But not because they want him to win. For the first time in recent memory, prominent conservatives see a Republican presidential field that could have as much competition among the party’s establishment-minded prospects — like Romney — as its fiery conservatives.

“If you have that many moderate establishment candidates, it gives an opportunity for a conservative to get in and become a serious contender,” said Amy Kremer, a national tea party activist.

Indeed, with Romney’s moves in the past week toward launching a third presidential run, three high-profile Republicans from the party’s mainstream are suddenly competing for the same group of elite donors and staffing talent, just as the crowded 2016 presidential primary season begins.

And that list — Romney, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — doesn’t even include a group of Midwestern governors, led by Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, who also fit the mold of accomplished, economic-minded executives driven as much by a pragmatic approach to governing as by their conservative ideology.

“We’ve never seen anything remotely like it,” said Rick Wilson, a Florida-based Republican consultant who has advised presidential campaigns. “There’s no analogous situation with three bigfoot characters in the mix.”

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a likely candidate who could benefit from the competition among Bush, Christie and Romney, said during a stop in New Hampshire Wednesday: “From our perspective, the more the merrier.”

The abundance of Republican presidential prospects who put economic policy ahead of social issues comes after GOP congressional leaders succeeded last year in beating back primary challenges from farther-right, tea party-affiliated candidates on their way to reclaiming Senate control.

It also sets up a potential contest of mainstream Republicans not seen since 2000, when George W. Bush was the favorite in a crowded field, or 1988, when then-Vice President George H. W. Bush was the heavy favorite.

The unexpected competition among mainstream Republicans is welcome news for prominent social conservative Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

He said the potential establishment scrum represents a “flip” from previous Republican primaries with “multiple conservative candidates behind us that sliced and diced the vote and allowed a moderate to emerge with just a plurality.” He said the cultural conservative base has learned from that and will make “some effort to coalesce around a candidate” this time.

More than a dozen candidates are preparing for what is widely seen as a once-in-a-generation opportunity — an open White House and no Republican heir apparent with a claim to the nomination. The group features no shortage of conservatives with untested mainstream appeal, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

Carson joins Romney on the agenda at this week’s Republican National Committee winter meeting in San Diego, where another cultural conservative favorite, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Wisconsin’s Walker are also slated to appear. Other would-be presidential contenders are sending senior aides to the three-day meeting to gauge interest in a prospective run.

Romney was added to the program just 36 hours before Wednesday’s opening session, having spent the last four days phoning leading Republicans and key former supporters across the country to signal serious interest in a 2016 campaign. The development seemed unthinkable a week earlier, when Bush and Christie were seen as more than capable of satisfying the establishment’s desire for mainstream candidates with White House-worthy resumes.

“By and large, they’re all going after the same base (of donors),” said former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, a senior adviser to Romney’s 2012 campaign and among those he called in recent days to talk about another run.

“One of the things you have to determine is whether you can raise the money, and I think that’s one of the things he’s calling around about now,” Talent said. “I would feel pretty confident about that with him. He’s always been pretty good at mobilizing support.”

Kristy Campbell, a spokeswoman for Jeb Bush, welcomed Romney to the pack this week, while suggesting the former Massachusetts governor’s efforts wouldn’t affect Bush’s plans.

Bush will not attend the San Diego gathering, but he will have volunteers on hand to engage with GOP officials.

While Bush, Romney and Christie dominated the conversation about the developing GOP race, lesser-known potential candidates are also hoping to attract attention this week.

A senior adviser to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Terri Reid, is headed to San Diego to talk up her recently re-elected boss, a former CEO whose accomplishments include helping deliver Detroit from bankruptcy. Snyder is among the group of Midwestern governors, elected and re-elected in swing- or even Democratic-leaning states, who could emerge as establishment picks should Romney, Bush and Christie all flame out.

Meanwhile, Christie is indicating he may move forward sooner than expected.

He has been on a victory tour attending Republican governors’ inaugurations, which will take him to key early voting states such as South Carolina and Iowa this week, just as his team prepares to add outgoing Republican National Committee finance chairman Ray Washburne to lead its fundraising operation. Further, high-profile Republican donors in New York and Virginia are planning meet-and-greet events for Christie with donors for later this month.

Perkins said he has nothing against the early establishment favorites, noting that he supported Romney aggressively in the 2012 general election.

“But he wouldn’t be my favorite in this field,” Perkins said.

More in Opinion

This image available under the Creative Commons license shows the outline of the state of Alaska filled with the pattern of the state flag.
Opinion: Bringing broadband to all Alaskans

Too many Alaskans face barriers accessing the internet.

This photo shows a stack of pocket constitutions at the Alaska State Capitol. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Join us in voting against a constitutional convention

Voting no on a constitutional convention is vital to the well-being and stability of our state.

Michael O’Meara.
Point of View: Tell BOEM how you feel

It seems like BOEM should prioritize input from people most likely to be affected if leases are sold

The State of Alaska, Department of Administration, Office of Information Technology webpage. (Screenshot/oit.alaska.gov)
Cloud migration now underway will strengthen, enhance State IT systems

At the most basic level, cloud computing is the delivery of computing services remotely

Jessica Cook, left, and Les Gara stand in The Peninsula Clarion’s offices on Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska Voices: Better schools for a better economy

We need leaders who care about our children’s futures

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Voices of the Peninsula: This is our borough and city

By Therese Lewandowski Another election already? Yes! This is our local elections… Continue reading

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation building is seen in Juneau, Alaska, in March 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: APFC keeps steady keel during turbulent year

FY2022 was a challenging year for all investors

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Nonprofits provide essential services not provided by cities

By our count, nonprofits provide more than 100 jobs to our communities

t
Opinion: Don’t get scammed like I nearly did

I should have just turned off the computer.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce campaigns for governor as he walks in the 65th annual Soldotna Progress Days Parade on Saturday, July 23, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. Pierce resigned as borough mayor effective Sept. 30, 2022, to focus on his gubernatorial campaign. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: ‘It has been an honor to serve’

Borough mayor gives send-off ahead of departure

Gov. Mike Dunleavy announces Friday, July 15, 2022, that 2022 most PFD payments will be distributed on Sept. 20, 2022. (Screenshot)
Opinion: A historic PFD still leaves work to be done

It is important to remember the dividend is not, and has never been, a welfare payment