Mitt Romney: It makes sense to use a TelePrompter

With Rick Santorum out of the race and Mitt Romney poised to become the GOP presidential nominee, how does Republican strategy change to defeat Obama? Scott Pelley speaks with CBS News political director John Dickerson.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gestures while addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010.
AP
Republicans, as a rule, don't exactly hold politicians who use TelePrompters in high regard.

"[W]hen you run for president of the United States, it should be illegal to read off a TelePrompter," Rick Santorum said last month in Louisiana. "Because all you're doing is reading someone else's words to people."

Santorum, who has called President Obama the "reader in chief," and Newt Gingrich are among the long list of Republicans who have mocked the president's use of a TelePrompter. Here's Gingrich last month: "I've already promised that if the president will agree to seven three-hour debates in the Lincoln-Douglas tradition, he can use a TelePrompter if he wants to."

But the man who seems to have bested Santorum and Gingrich in the race for the GOP presidential nomination doesn't see what's so wrong with using a TelePrompter. In a video leaked to Gawker.com by a disgruntled (and now fired) Fox News employee known as the "Fox Mole," the presumptive nominee is shown chatting with Sean Hannity before going on air. After producers inform Hannity there is a script for the segment - which Hannity will read off a "prompter" - the two men mock Mr. Obama for using a TelePrompter, with Hannity saying, "I think Obama sleeps with his."

But the two then sing the praises of the device in keeping a candidate from saying something he might regret.

"It does make some sense though" to use a teleprompter, Romney tells Hannity. "I do understand."

He adds: "It keeps you from saying something you don't mean, you get the message out precisely the way you want to get the message out." Romney says he has used a TelePrompter "maybe five times" in the campaign. Romney in recent months has tended to use a teleprompter for most major speeches.

"It's smart," Hannity agrees. "You're right. You don't want to make a mistake. I'll tell you, they're out to just eviscerate anybody who makes a mistake."

Santorum seemed to be targeting Romney's TelePrompter use in the comment above and in remarks in February, when he told a Michigan audience: "I never have to worry about what I say because I will say what's on my heart. I might not say it the most articulate sometimes and I understand that, but I have no TelePrompters. I answer questions."

Some have been confused by Republican attacks the president's use of a TelePrompter, and Democrats note that presidents from both parties have used the device for more than half a century.

"It's a strange obsession because it's inane," wrote Robert Schlesinger in U.S. News and World Report last month. "Teleprompters are tools. Sure they're high tech if you've just emerged from the 1950s...but ultimately they're just a medium for prepared remarks, substantively no different from a sheet of paper on a lectern."

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post has an explanation: For Republicans, "the use of a Prompter gets at authenticity." Mr. Obama's dependence on a prompter, by this thinking, reveals him to be far less than presidential - someone who, Cillizza writes, is simply "reading words written for him by someone else from an electronic device." Seen in this context, Santorum's decision to attack Romney for using a prompter makes sense - it squares with the critique by Santorum and Gingrich that the former moderate Massachusetts governor is less than authentic when he claims to be a conservative.

Romney has been burned multiple times throughout the campaign for his off-the-cuff comments, some of which have reinforced the notion that he is not in touch with the average American. (Among them: That wife Ann "drives a couple of Cadillacs," that he has "some great friends who are NASCAR team owners," that he would bet Rick Perry the rather odd sum of $10,000 over who was correct about Romney's record.) In a world where a poor choice of words can derail a campaign message, it's no surprise that Romney sees the value in sticking to the script - even if he'll only admit as much when he thinks no one is watching.

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