Do House Republicans and Mitt Romney need to have a relationship-defining talk?
After Speaker John Boehner bluntly told an audience that aside from Romney’s “friends, relatives and fellow Mormons” most people would be voting for the former Massachusetts governor out of opposition to President Barack Obama, rank-and-file Members struggled to explain whether they love Romney or just hate Obama.
“I think both,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said, “but definitely motivated by the fact that Barack Obama has been a terrible president.”
“I never thought the Speaker was going to give Mitt Romney a big, wet, slobbery, tongue-filled kiss. But there’s a lot to like,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the House Member who is closest to Romney personally. “We don’t expect a man crush. We want to come together and actually solve problems.”
“You typically don’t hear of people going, ‘Oh, man, I can’t wait to go to the polls and vote for so-and-so,’” Rep. Lynn Westmoreland said — except, the Georgia Republican conceded, in 2008, when the devotion of Obama followers helped usher him into the White House.
As one GOP aide noted, “It’s the old adage: Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.”
Even Rush Limbaugh weighed in on whether love was in the air.
“We don’t want people falling in love with candidates. That’s what people did with Obama in 2008. We don’t want that. ... We find ourselves in a unique situation here. We don’t have the ideal nominee. There wasn’t the ideal nominee this time around,” the talk-show host said in a statement on his website.
Still, Boehner’s remarks on June 30 were surprisingly frank.
As reported by Roll Call, the Ohio Republican was answering questions with an audience of 200 to 300 people at a fundraiser in Wheeling, W.Va., when an unidentified woman asked: “Can you make me love Mitt Romney?”
“No,” Boehner said. “Listen, we’re just politicians. I wasn’t elected to play God. The American people probably aren’t going to fall in love with Mitt Romney. I’ll tell you this: 95 percent of the people that show up to vote in November are going to show up in that voting booth, and they are going to vote for or against Barack Obama.
“Mitt Romney has some friends, relatives and fellow Mormons ... some people that are going to vote for him. But that’s not what this election is about. This election is going to be a referendum on the president’s failed economic policies.”
Boehner sought to explain his remarks Tuesday, saying at a press conference that he “enthusiastically” supports Romney.
“I’m going to be enthusiastic about voting for Gov. Romney in November. And I think the American people will be enthusiastic about voting for Gov. Romney in November,” Boehner said.
Asked whether he stands by the Wheeling remarks, Boehner said, “The point I was trying to make is very simply this: The election this November is going to be a referendum on the president’s failed economic policies.”
If Boehner reached out to Romney to patch things up after the remarks became public, he hasn’t told many people. Several of his closest House allies said they weren’t aware of any conversations between the two.
Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), a close Boehner friend, said he sat next to the Speaker at the fundraiser.
The woman who asked the question, LaTourette said, had introduced herself to Boehner as a Democrat at a receiving line earlier in the evening.
Her question, then, was about how Republicans will convince American voters to “love” Romney, not an invitation for personal conversion, LaTourette said.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions said the problem might be that Boehner and Romney haven’t spent enough time together.
“I’ve been around him probably more than the Speaker, and I have the confidence the more I got to know him,” the Texas lawmaker said.
“I have found that by being next to Mitt Romney, he exudes great confidence, he’s very good at communicating and he’s straightforward.”
The day after Boehner’s remarks went public, Majority Leader Eric Cantor attended a lunch fundraiser with Romney in East Hampton, N.Y.
The Virginia Republican came back raving about Romney to colleagues, Chaffetz said, saying “what a great guy he was. And just how much fun they had together. They really enjoyed it. You need to spend time with somebody to get to know him. And as people do so, he’ll naturally win them over.”
When circumstances have forced Boehner and Romney to work together, they haven’t been close.
“They had crossed paths, but just a few times,” Chaffetz said.
A recent story in The Hill claimed that their “bond ... has become stronger in recent weeks.” But the piece had the unfortunate timing of coming out just after Boehner’s lukewarm fundraiser assessment was made public.
For some, the timing was evidence that Boehner’s office was working to counteract the damage from the initial story.
Boehner “is apparently seeking to ease the fallout after a report unearthed his remarkably candid take on Mitt Romney,” Talking Points Memo wrote.
In fact, the timing was a coincidence, and The Hill’s story had been in the works for more than a week, sources said.