As it became increasingly clear this month that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would win GOP presidential nomination, several elected Republicans and party bigwigs who had steered clear of the volatile 2012 primary officially backed his candidacy, leading journalists and other political observers to joke about the late endorsements on Twitter with hash tags such as #profilesincourage.
During a brief interview Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Jim DeMint indicated a desire to avoid the “profiles in courage” ridicule, telling Roll Call that he would stick by his vow not to endorse in a primary contest that is still technically under way. The South Carolina Republican and tea party favorite chuckled that it would be funny for him to officially back Romney only now that it is obvious he is going to be the nominee against President Barack Obama.
But DeMint’s refusal to formally endorse Romney, as he did in the 2008 GOP presidential primary, shouldn’t be interpreted as a result of his harboring lukewarm feelings for the ex-Massachusetts governor. DeMint enthusiastically touted Romney’s executive experience in business and government and suggested that he’s worked quietly for several months behind the scenes to burnish Romney's image and shore up support for him among suspicious conservatives.
“He knows he’s got my support. The official endorsement’s not going to come. I’ve said I’m not going to endorse, and right now it’s really — I think it would be silly to endorse at this point,” DeMint said. “I’ve tried to keep his name in the mix the whole time, I’ve tried to make sure that we cultivated support among conservatives because I think a lot of conservatives who did not like Romney were just responding to the image created by an unfriendly media, and I worked with Mitt enough to know that he is a limited-government, balance-the-budget conservative. But he’s also a good executive, and that’s a skill that very underrated for a president of the United States.”
“I liked all the candidates in the race; I tried to say nice things about them," DeMint continued. “But Mitt Romney’s going to be our nominee, and I think conservatives are going to rally behind him. The more they think about Barack Obama, the more conservative Mitt Romney’s going to look.”
Tuesday evening, following his sweep of five GOP primaries that were never in doubt, Romney formally accepted the presidential nomination. The governor's strongest challenger, former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), suspended his campaign earlier this month. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) appears poised to do so next. That would leave Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) as the only other candidate left in the race. But Paul trails far behind Romney in the race for nominating delegates.
Following Tuesday's primaries, Romney leads with 844 delegates, according to the Associated Press, putting him just 300 shy of the 1,144 he needs to secure the nomination. Santorum exited the race with 260 delegates; Gingrich currently holds 137 and Paul 79.