Romney's Next Challenge: Woo Skeptical Republicans
The battering Mitt Romney took from Republican rivals during the primary made big news. What seemed less noteworthy at the time is now much more significant if there is to be a President Romney — the knocks he took from Republicans in Congress.
"He's the least of the candidates running right now that would be considered a Tea Party candidate," Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., told CNN.
After Romney won Florida, GOP Rep. Allen West told CBS that Romney has to do a far better job in "making the appeal as far as being a strong constitutional conservative."
It's not just Tea Party conservatives who questioned Romney's candidacy, Peter King, a Republican moderate from New York, said to Howard Kurtz of the Daily Beast that Romney has not connected on a visceral level at all.
"That is going to be important if he's going to win the election; he has to make a greater personal appeal to people," King said.
Past criticism from his own party is one reason Romney's campaign has produced a series of ads answering the question: "What would President Romney do?"
The language of these ads could be lifted directly from the Tea Party playbook, and seem aimed at conservative Republicans to convince them Romney is really their guy.
As is to be expected, the Republican establishment is pulling itself together behind the party's presumptive nominee. Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, who runs the National Republican Congressional Committee, says Romney understands that the things that he does are about growing the free-enterprise system.
"Mitt Romney is a free-enterprise person," Sessions says. "Romney exercises and uses what they teach in business schools."
Romney has got his supporters within the younger ranks in Congress as well. Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz says Romney brought together a fractured party and united it.
Chaffetz is well-connected to Romney and is a fellow Mormon. One of the arguments Chaffetz makes is that Romney has always been effective, as both a business leader and as the governor of Massachusetts.
"He was dealing with a legislature that was more than 80 percent Democrats and he was able to get some significant pieces of legislation crafted and passed," Chaffetz says.
That argument leaves some Congressional Republicans cold. When asked what a President Romney's relationship would be like with the Congress, Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh says it could be a "wonderful relationship," assuming the Republicans still control the House and hopefully get control of the Senate.
In other words, as long as conservatives — Tea Party loyalists like Walsh — still have a grip on power in the legislative branch. But Walsh also says people shouldn't mistake that stance for tepid emotions about the election itself.
"The enthusiasm on our side is so focused on getting President Obama out of the White House, and it's genuine and it's real, so that sort of trumps everything," he says.
Romney and his supporters hope so, because in a hard-fought and close election, as this one shows all signs of being, a candidate can't afford too many mixed emotions in his own party.