Former top Democratic operative turned journalist George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday wondered if Mitt Romney's attempt to "reassure" conservative voters would end up "turning off" moderates and independent voters in a general election. [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
Interviewing the Republican presidential candidate on "Good Morning America," Stephanopoulos offered spin about conservative extremism: "And I wonder as you look at the general election ahead with President Obama, as you try to appeal to these Republican voters looking for a true conservative, are you worried at all, as you try to reassure them, that you might then turn off those moderates and independent voters you'll need in a general election...?"
Stephanopoulos added, "Those independent voters last night went heavily to Ron Paul." Of course, it's unfair to assume Ron Paul voters might be traditional Republican constituents. As the Los Angeles Times reported:
Even though members of the Occupy movement disrupted a recent Paul rally in Des Moines, the candidate speaks sympathetically to voters about the left-wing group, which he likens to the tea-party movement that he is credited with inspiring. His outspoken support for civil liberties, including staunch opposition to the Patriot Act, and dovish foreign policy views have natural appeal to many Democrats, particularly in Iowa, where antiwar sentiment has long run high.
Writing in the Washington Examiner, Philip Klein explained, "According to entrance polls, 25 percent of caucusgoers were Democrats or independents (up from 14 percent four years ago, when there was an active Democratic primary)."
It's hard to say that Paul's appeal to Democrats and liberals could prove a rejection of conservatism.
Stephanopoulos, who on Tuesday derided Rick Santorum, attacked Romney on Wednesday for not living up to expectations: "But, what does it say about your candidacy? That you actually won fewer votes than you did in 2008. And you fought Rick Santorum to a draw, basically, even though you spent- outspent him 50-1 on television ads?"
The morning show host has a habit of smearing conservatives as outside the mainstream. On May 13, 2007, he casually assumed the bigotry of Republicans:
ABC’s Sam Donaldson: “[Senator Barack Obama is] an African-American. Is the country ready? Well, I think it is. And he said he thinks it is. He said he thinks he’ll lose some votes because of that, and so the question is, what does the word ‘some’ mean?....”
Moderator George Stephanopoulos: “Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m naive, but Sam, I guess I think that anyone who’s not going to vote for Barack Obama because he is black isn’t going to vote for a Democrat anyway.”
— ABC’s This Week, May 13, 2007.
A transcript of the January 4 segment, which aired at 7:04am EST, follows:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And we turn now to the winner of the Iowa caucuses. Mitt Romney joins us from Des Moines this morning. And, Governor, congratulations. I guess every vote counts, right?
MITT ROMNEY [Laughs] I guess that's true, although I think here's a real boost coming out of Iowa. Not just for me. But also, of course, for Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, what does it say about your candidacy? That you actually won fewer votes than you did in 2008. And you fought Rick Santorum to a draw, basically, even though you spent- outspent him 50-1 on television ads?
ROMNEY: [Laughs] Well, this was a seven-person field, of course. And so, you can't do with seven people the field that you can do with a smaller field. And I've also ran a national campaign. Rick has focused his effort, and I think in a wise way, entirely on Iowa. I've been campaigning in other states. Putting together the kind of organization which I believe will get me the 1,150 delegates I need. So, let me tell you, I'm going to take every win I can possibly get. And get every delegate I can possibly get.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is Rick Santorum your prime opponent now? And what's your top argument against him? And why should Republican voters choose you over him?
ROMNEY: Uh, you know, I don't know who the other finalist will be. I hope I'm one of two finalists, by the way. At this stage, it looks like it's Rick Santorum and we have very different backgrounds. I spent my life, the first 25 years, in the private sector. I know a great deal about how jobs are created. How they come and how they go. And I think Rick has spent most of his life in the governmental sector. Nothing wrong with that experience. But it's very different, I think, if you want to get the economy going again.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Meantime, Newt Gingrich is really coming after you, Governor, as I'm sure you know. Yesterday, he called you a liar, saying that you know more about the super pac ads than you're letting on. He also said you're a Massachusetts moderate. Jake Tapper showed in his piece this ad you're going to be greeted by in the Manchester Union Leader. "The choice: Only a bold Reagan conservative," Newt Gingrich in that ad, "can defeat President Obama." What's your response to former Speaker Gingrich?
ROMNEY: Well, I'm sure he's disappointed in the results last night, but I expect he'll go on and mount a spirited campaign. And we'll look forward to seeing him in the states ahead. Look, I have pretty broad shoulders. I know the attacks are going to come. They're going to be coming more fast and furious now. And they're going to come from the DNC, as well as the President and the White House. As well as my rivals in the Republican contest. And if you can't handle the heat now, you can't handle the heat down the road.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He's calling you a liar. Is that out of bounds?
ROMNEY: Uh, you know, it's pretty heated rhetoric, obviously and I think he's just really angry, disappointed. I mean, he was leading in the polls here by a pretty wide margin. And one of the things I feel good about is having come from way behind, just a few weeks ago, to come to a point where, well, we're in a virtual tie for the finish.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Looking at the bigger picture in the Republican primaries now, it seems you're winning the minds of Republican voters, at least in Iowa, but not their hearts. Those who want to beat Obama go to you. But those looking for a true conservative or a strong moral leader are looking elsewhere. How do you fix that?
ROMNEY: Uh, you know, I think people have to hear me more and more. See my record as a Massachusetts governor. And remember, that I ran four years ago and Mike Huckabee and I were the conservative choices. We got beaten by a very strong campaigner, in John McCain. But you know, I'll just have to get my message across the country. I think people who understand that I will restore to this country, its fundamental principles of freedom and opportunity, are being drawn to my campaign. And by the way, the crowds here in Iowa were large and enthusiastic.
STEPHANOPOULOS: They were large and enthusiastic, but as I said, you did get fewer votes than four years ago. And I wonder as you look at the general election ahead with President Obama, as you try to appeal to these Republican voters looking for a true conservative, are you worried at all, as you try to reassure them, that you might then turn off those moderates and independent voters you'll need in a general election if you do, indeed, get the nomination? Those independent voters last night went heavily to Ron Paul.
ROMNEY: Uh, you know, I actually think, George, that if you're in a race like this, you express your views on the issues and talk about your vision for the country. And you really don't try and figure out which group you're trying to appeal to. I wrote a book a couple of years ago. I laid out my vision for the country. I'm not going to sway to the right or left of that. I'm just going to talk about the things I believe. Hopefully, that will lead me to a victory. But, if it doesn't, I can live with that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Stand by your statement from a couple days ago? You're going to win the nomination?
ROMNEY: Uh, you know, I sure plan on winning the nomination. It's no sure thing. I can't predict how that will happen. If I do my job, if my team is able to do a good job, why, we ought to be able to post up pretty well against President Obama down the road.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Mitt Romney, thank you very much. We'll see you Saturday in New Hampshire.