Even With Wins, Romney Faces Tough Road With Conservatives

BY Judy Woodruff  January 11, 2012 at 4:26 PM EST

Overnight, Mitt Romney drew much closer to grabbing the GOP brass ring for 2012. He made history by becoming the first Republican non-incumbent to win both the Iowa caucuses (albeit by .0065 percent of the vote) and the New Hampshire primary. Ron Paul, John Huntsman, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry are all pushing ahead, focused on the contests to come, but the former Massachusetts Governor has made each of their jobs that much harder.

The praise for Romney is starting to pour in. Headlines like, “A Perfect Night for Mitt,” “Romney in the Driver’s Seat” and even “…The Race is Over,” are showing up across the national news media. Indeed, with the announcement Romney’s campaign pulled in $24 million in contributions in the last quarter of 2012, well more than any of his GOP rivals, and with a crackerjack organization backing him up, it’s not easy to imagine who could overtake him, even if he were to lose the next primary, in South Carolina, where early January polls show him leading.

At the same time, it’s not difficult to find commentary from conservatives who aren’t ready to climb on the Romney bandwagon.

John Podhoretz , in The New York Post, calls him “one of the weakest major candidates either party has ever seen…..nobody loves him. No one is inspired by him.” The American Spectator declares “RINO Romney is Unelectable,” and asks, “Who is going to take seriously a Wall Street millionaire calling for tax cuts for millionaires,” as it questions his commitment to an authentic Reaganesque economic policy.

Even conservatives who are open to supporting Romney eventually, are preoccupied with pointing out his liabilities. Weekly Standard Founder Bill Kristol notes a lack of excitement around Romney, and said he does need to explain seriously how the investment company he founded, Bain, was not part of “simply an assault on free markets.”

In fact, Romney’s business background is what Kristol’s colleague at the Weekly Standard, Michael Walsh, says makes him vulnerable. “…the public…is rightfully suspicious of men who make millions off the lives and fortunes of others and then act as if they’ve accomplished something unique and original.”

It turns out that both fiscal conservatives, many supporting the Tea Party – worried about the size of government – and social conservatives – worried about upholding values that are pro-life on abortion and anti-gay – are expressing reservations. The meeting of evangelical leaders in Texas this weekend, to discuss whether all the “non-Romney” candidates could unite behind one person, is seen as an eleventh hour attempt to find an acceptable conservative alternative.

All this may shake out in the next few weeks, as voters weigh in on Jan. 21 in South Carolina, and 10 days later in Florida. But some of the criticisms are so withering, from down-the-line conservatives, it’s clear Romney still has work to do to win over his own base, if he’s to carry the Republican banner this fall. Jonah Goldberg writes in the Los Angeles Times, “When he talks about what he likes and what drives him, he reminds people that there’s just something off about him.”

Ouch.