Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney blamed President George W. Bush for the Republican Party’s slow start in advancing clear alternatives to the stimulus package, and said the party needs a more unified voice if it is to stand up to the Democrats.
“I wish the president would have laid [a stimulus package] out before he left office, so that in September, October, November, December, there would have been a stimulus plan,” Romney said in an interview with POLITICO, adding that the GOP has yet to come up with unified policy proposals or a clear, positive voice.
“What’s challenging about being in the minority is we don’t have a spokesperson for our position who lays out a plan,” Romney said Friday.
Romney – who has himself re-emerged as a key national leader for his party — denied he has anyone in particular in mind to be that spokesman.
“I’m happy to have a role, [and will] aggressively seek the opportunity to have my viewpoint known,” he said.
But the former one-term governor and presidential candidate, a man of independent means and boundless energy, has undeniably thrown himself into the vacuum atop the Republican Party. One of a handful of Republicans who – people close to him say — can be expected to consider a bid for president, he has the particular advantage of focus.
Other possible presidential candidates are wrestling with home state budget deficits, President Barack Obama’s popularity, and their own local political options. Romney is, he says, on the national stage full time, writing a book of policy and ideas, and spending the balance of his days campaigning and fundraising for congressional Republicans.
The Republican Party has a tradition of returning to defeated primary candidates, from Ronald Reagan to John McCain, and Romney is putting himself in a strong position to continue it.
“If there are people thinking about 2012, It’s like, go get a life,” Romney told POLITICO in an interview in a Washington hotel before his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, a key stop for ambitious GOP leaders.
Romney, former aides say, imagined campaigning in 2007 and 2008 as “America’s CEO.” But the dictates of Republican primary politics forced him on to the defensive, and into a thicket of social and religious questions where he spent the bulk of his campaign defending the moderate stances he had taken as a Senate candidate and governor in his liberal home state.
But now economic issues drown out all others, and Romney is back on familiar and comfortable ground for a professional turn-around artist who made his name in the private sector and with the Salt Lake City Olympics.
In the interview, Romney offered the mainstream Republican critique of President Barack Obama: At the urging of congressional Democrats, Romney said, he’s spending too much.
“At a time of economic crisis, you don’t start laying out an agenda of things we’d like but can’t afford,” Romney said, accusing Obama of having “abdicated the leadership” of the country to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Obama, he said, is pushing the country to “a point where we borrow so much” that fears of deflation and recession turn into “a collapse of a very different kind” – a run on the dollar, and hyperinflation.
Now, he says, with other critical policy battles rapidly approaching, Republicans can’t afford to repeat the mistake they made with the stimulus.
“It’s important that we come out with our plan first and that we say, ‘Here is the Republican healthcare plan, here is the Republican education plan, here is the Republican energy plan.”
Romney even appeared to chide radio host Rush Limbaugh, whose stated hope that Obama fails has become a major emocratic talking point, in his CPAC address Friday.
“In the last eight years, we saw how a president’s political adversaries could be consumed by anger, and even hatred,” Romney said. “We want our country to succeed, no matter who’s in power.”
Romney didn’t shy away from crowd-pleasing shots at Obama in his CPAC speech, blasting promises of expanding education and national service.
“It all sounds very appealing, until you realize that these plans mean universal government. That model has never worked anywhere in the world,” he said.
But the core of Romney’s case to his party is its need for a positive economic message, and a credible messenger.
“We must be the alternative course,” he told CPAC. “We can’t be that if all we say is no. Our plans must be clear, compelling, and first to the table. Our plans must have at least one common thread—they must make America stronger. Better education strengthens our kids; better healthcare strengthens our citizens; and bringing our budget into balance strengthens our economy and preserves our future.”
Romney also appears to be focusing in his personal life, scaling back property holdings that might make fodder for campaign attacks.
Politics, he said, has nothing to do with that decision.
“I’ve got four houses. They’re all large. I’ve got no kids at home. Very simply that doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said. “We’re just trying to downsize to the scale of our life.”
He hasn’t made the planned move to a condo yet, however.
“Having something on the market and selling it are two different things right now,” he said. “I might be in the house in Boston for several more years.”