Political Animal


November 23, 2011 12:45 PM Leadership requires courage

By Steve Benen

Conservative columnist George Will recently slammed Mitt Romney as “a recidivist reviser of his principles,” who seems to “lack the courage of his absence of convictions.” The line continues to look more and more apt all the time.

Last night, Newt Gingrich showed some guts and said when it comes to undocumented immigrants who entered the country a quarter-century ago, he sees no need to “separate them from their families and expel them.” Romney and his team pounced, condemning Gingrich for supporting “amnesty.”

It led, however, to a rather remarkable exchange in the spin room, with Romney adviser and spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom finding himself at a loss for words.

When Examiner reporter Philip Klein asked whether the former Massachusetts governor believed in deporting undocumented immigrants, Fehrnstrom repeated, “He doesn’t believe in granting them amnesty.”

Asked again what Romney would do with immigrants who are currently living in the Unites States illegally, Fehrnstrom once more evaded the question.

The evasion wasn’t exactly graceful. Klein asked what Romney would do with the undocumented immigrants who are already here, and Fehrnstrom replied, “He would not grant them amnesty.” Right, Klein said, but instead of amnesty, what would Romney do with these people? “He would not grant them amnesty,” Fehrnstrom answered. Got it, Klein said, but what, specifically, would Romney do? “I just told you, he’s not going to grant them amnesty,” the campaign spokesperson said. When Klein then explained that this isn’t actually an answer, Fehrnstrom, once again, said, “He would not grant them amnesty.”

Remember, Philip Klein writes for the Washington Examiner, which is a conservative outlet. It’s not like the Romney campaign was blowing off some liberal reporter; the leading Republican campaign couldn’t get past its own superficial talking point with a conservative reporter asking a basic question.

In this case, Romney wanted to take a shot at Gingrich over immigration, without pesky questions about what Romney believes about the same policy.

And this ties in perfectly with one of Romney’s more glaring character flaws: his cowardice on key issues.

Does Romney support the “Personhood” amendment in Mississippi? He doesn’t want to give an opinion.

Does Romney support an extension of the payroll tax break? He doesn’t want to give an opinion.

Does Romney support collective bargaining rights in Ohio? He doesn’t want to give an opinion.

Was Romney comfortable with GOP voters booing a U.S. soldier serving in Iraq during a Republican debate? He doesn’t want to give an opinion.

Does Romney support mass deportation of undocumented immigrants? He doesn’t want to give an opinion.

There’s going to come a point next year when the Obama campaign is likely to say, “Mitt Romney lacks the courage and the character to be a leader.” And the criticism will sting because it’s based in fact.

Either Romney has the guts to lead or he doesn’t.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • c u n d gulag on November 23, 2011 12:53 PM:

    Ah, another non-answer answer from the Mitt camp!

    If I were Philip Klein, I'd have asked Eric Fehrnstrom, "Does Polly want another cracker?"

  • jim filyaw on November 23, 2011 12:55 PM:


    must run in the family. daddy george skated the big one. ditto mitt. seven back to back deferments bicycling across france while nam was boiling. mitty's boys? not one has found a uniform to fit him while these wars have been going on. that's not a coincidence--its a family tradition.

  • j on November 23, 2011 12:56 PM:

    He's a coward all right, also a flip flopper and now he has resorted to being a name caller. Retired generals on TV have been saying the right cannot be any stronger than Obama on foreign policy and national security, because Obama has proved his strength, Willard the cowardly liar comes on and says how weak Obama is and how Obama goes abroad and apologizes for America in spite of the fact that no one can find a speech where he did apologize for America. No one seems to call Willard out on any of this!

  • internet tough guy on November 23, 2011 1:00 PM:

    Mitt lies through his teeth about something as inconsequential as his first name, but gives vague answers on major issues.

    This proves he's not a real Republican. A real Republican would lie through his teeth on the issues and obfuscate on minor issues.

  • Old Uncle Dave on November 23, 2011 1:08 PM:

    It doesn't matter. Mitt is never going to become President.

  • MattF on November 23, 2011 1:11 PM:

    I hadn't really thought of 'character' as the key issue about Romney, but that's where I'm headed now. That flat-out lying TV ad released yesterday was food for thought, and the lengthening list of 'no comment' is getting damning.

  • Some Guy on November 23, 2011 1:22 PM:

    As the candidate most representing corporate interests Romney would keep the status quo in place. Cheap undocumented labor that's easily exploitable. Done!

  • LisainTexas on November 23, 2011 1:22 PM:

    The focus on 'guts' doesn't really make much sense. Knowledge would be nice. Combined with another non-Republican trait - compassion. I don't much care about all the 'courage' especially when it's defined as 'courageous' to not go along with the vicious points of view other potential 'leaders' have about immigration. Presumably there have been a bunch of focus groups and when it comes to the crunch most voters perhaps don't want all immigrants thrown own to 'go home'. Even if they have no 'home' outside of the U.S. A very low bar for courage right now.

  • exlibra on November 23, 2011 1:26 PM:

    Here's Mitt's well-balanced Thanksgiving menu:

  • Rip on November 23, 2011 2:00 PM:

    I used to think that Romney, unlike the rest of the Republican field, actually had a shot at defeating Obama, and polls seemed to back this up. But it becomes increasingly clear after running for President for 6 years, that Mitt rarely thinks more than one step ahead and is often unprepared for any real pushback or attack on his his ever changing positions. So far he's had it pretty easy with no one else running bringing out the hatchet, as they all imagine themselves somehow being a potential veep pick should Romney be nominated. Even Rick Perry's jabs were soft enough to be forgiven by the convention.

    Assuming Romney becomes the nominee, the Obama campaign will be relentless in reminding voters that Romney can't be trusted, has no core convictions, and is out of touch with the concerns of the middle class - and they will be able to do it using clips of Romney himself - in context. He won't know what hit him, and no amount of ass-kissing of the far right at the convention is going fire them up for him, not even letting them pick the veep.

    Even with a floor of 40% of the electorate that would vote for David Duke if he were the Republican nominee, I don't see Romney or anyone else running coming within 5 points of Obama next November.

  • Karoline on November 23, 2011 2:25 PM:

    Great article I really agree with this, they must to be very brave.
    Travel Costa Rica

  • RT on November 23, 2011 2:43 PM:

    "As the candidate most representing corporate interests Romney would keep the status quo in place. Cheap undocumented labor that's easily exploitable. Done!"

    Some Guy nails it. Not saying Mitt would deport illegal immigrants = saying Mitt would not deport illegal immigrants.

  • MNRD on November 23, 2011 5:29 PM:

    The conventional wisdom has it that Romney is running a strong solid campaign and that it's inevitable that he will eventually wind up with the nomination. Isn't it possible, however, that the spectacular flame-outs of his opponents are masking how bad of a campaign Romney is actually running? Romney continues to make mistake after mistake that reinforces the key narrative that he is a fraud. Romney seems to be intrinsically such a fraud that as hard as he's trying he is simply incapable of hiding his fraudulence. Romney's ad that blatantly lies about the President's words is a classic case in point. Has there ever been a political ad on the presidential level that can be this easily proven to be fraudulent, and that so easily invites parodies that make Romney look utterly ridiculous (like the one in which Romney appears to be endorsing Obama for president).

    Maybe the reason why Romney cannot get beyond the mid-twenties in the polls regardless of how many of his rivals flame-out in succession is because he continues to expose himself to his base as a complete fraud.

  • Rick B on November 23, 2011 6:04 PM:

    Romney is not going to demonstrate that he has the guts to lead at this time. This is a carefully calculated position he is taking.

    He is in the position of being nearly assured the nomination as long as he does not get crosswise with the right-wing fanatics. But if he appeases the crazies directly he cannot possibly win enough deluded "moderates" in the general election to win the Presidency.

    He is taking the only possible track to winning the nomination now. He will refuse repeatedly to take a controversial position he has to answer for in the general election as long as the primaries are still not sewn up.

    He'll be happy to take controversial and even right-wing gutsy positions once he cannot be kept from winning the nomination. His blatant lie in the ad against Obama demonstrates that he has no hesitancy to say things people don't like, just as long as those people do not create a barrier to him getting the nomination and then the Presidency.

  • Doug on November 23, 2011 10:31 PM:

    Rick B's points about Romney's determination to do/say ANYTHING he thinks will get him the Republican nomination only reinforce MNRD's observations that Romney only looks one step ahead at a time.
    Sooner or later, most likely well before next year's election day, an awful lot of Republican voters are going to wake up to the fact that they've been flim-flammed.
    "Independents", aka "former Republicans", will gape in horror at Romney's attempts to woo right-wing voters, while the latter will, probably literally, foam at the mouth, as Romney tries to appear "moderate". If Romney keeps this up he'll be lucky to get 40% of the vote next November.
    Couldn't happen to a better whore...