TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney’s Tampa campaign headquarters was upbeat throughout Tuesday afternoon, thanks to polls showing their man ahead, but when the projections of an enormous 16-point win came in, the crowd really went wild.
Positive energy and optimism were the defining characteristics of all the Romney volunteers and supporters I talked to. They were all confident that Romney’s message of renewal would carry him to victory in the general election. Far from believing any of the spin that he’s the man Barack Obama always wanted to run against, one volunteer described Romney as Obama’s “nightmare candidate” – someone who actually knows what he’s doing when it comes to economic growth.
Romney supporters I spoke with placed a high value on party loyalty and unity. Their biggest beef with Newt Gingrich, who did not have a lot of fans in the room, came from their sense that his attacks violated that sense of political community, particularly when he went after Bain Capital. On the other hand, they appreciated the way Romney’s old foe from 2008, John McCain, pitched in and supported Romney this time around.
Interestingly, no one I spoke to had a bad word to say about Rick Santorum. They all liked him personally, and were comfortable with the idea of his joining the Romney ticket as vice-president, should he feel motivated to do so.
Romney stressed the theme of party unity and strength in his victory speech, declaring that the tough primary battle would not fragment the Republican Party, but would instead make it stronger. He saluted his remaining competitors for their efforts in “a hard-fought race,” noting that “primaries aren’t easy – and they’re not supposed to be.”
Romney recalled the beginning of President Obama’s term, when the incumbent remarked that if he couldn’t turn the economy around within three years, his presidency would be a one-term proposition. “We’re here to collect,” Romney told the cheering crowd, blaming Obama for “35 straight months of 8 percent unemployment” and “more home foreclosures than any other president in history.” He spoke of families, retirees, and entrepreneurs “watching the American Dream disappear.”
“In his State of the Union address, the President actually said these words: Let’s remember now how we got here,” Romney recalled. “Mr. President, we know exactly how we got here. You won the election!”
“Leadership is about taking responsibility, not making excuses,” Romney explained. Recalling Thomas Paine’s imperative to lead, follow, or get out of the way, he said, “Mr. President, you were elected to lead. You chose to follow. Now it’s time to get out of the way.”
Romney spoke of his private-sector experience, and the management skills he brought to the Winter Olympics. He promoted himself as an outsider who could reform Washington. He said he was well-qualified to understand how government hurts job creation, “and yes, how it can help a little, from time to time.”
Of his days as governor of Massachusetts, Romney said, “My leadership cut taxes 19 times, and cast over 800 vetoes.” He claimed credit for balancing the budget every year he was in office, and promised to do the same for America, without raising anyone’s taxes. He said he would accomplish this through spending cuts and reducing the government’s share of the economy. He also renewed his commitment to repeal ObamaCare. Romney vowed to bring the Obama era to a close, and replace it with “a new era of American prosperity.”
Romney portrayed the coming election as “a battle for the soul of America.” He said Obama’s idea of a free economy was “sending your money to his friends,” while Romney would “return entrepreneurship to the genius and creativity of the American people.”
This would imply more than merely a freeze in existing tax rates. It also nicely echoes the recent words of a prominent Romney supporter, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who sneered at liberal ideas for “investing” other people’s tax money, and said giving citizens back their own money was a far wiser investment. Unlike Christie, Romney did not call his liberal opponents “numb nuts.” That’s really more the vice presidential nominee’s job.
Romney made an interesting point about the desperate Obama’s tendency to “demonize” every part of the private sector. By contrast, Romney would “make America the most attractive place in the world for entrepreneurs, innovators and job creators… and unlike the other people running for president, I know how to do that.”
He promised to defend religious liberty, and protect the right of religious organizations to act in accordance with their conscience, a stance that has ramifications in the arguments over re-defining marriage, public funding for abortion and compelling religious adoption services to place children with gay parents.
Responding to Obama’s defense cuts, Romney said he would “insist on a military so powerful that no one in the world would dare challenge them.” Instead of “appeasement and apology,” he said he would “speak out for those seeking freedom, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies around the world.”
Instead of President Obama’s desire to “fundamentally transform America,” Romney promised to restore the values “that made America the hope of the Earth.” On the occasion of his commanding Florida victory – its electoral effects somewhat muted by Florida’s sacrifice of half its delegates for violating party primary rules, but its significance in the ongoing primary struggle undiminished – he invited Republicans to come together and use the Constitution as a blueprint to rebuild a nation where “hope is a paycheck, not a faded word on an old bumper sticker.”
“If you believe the disappointments of the last few years are a detour, not our destiny, then I’m asking for your vote,” he concluded, inviting the crowd to remember better times that could come again… times when the White House “reflects the best of America, not the worst of us.”
It was this theme of renewal – active, energetic, and passionate, not faded and passive nostalgia – which animated those who gathered to hear Mitt Romney’s victory speech. They shared his vision, and respected his ability to make it real. They didn’t strike me as the type to despair, or wait helplessly for rescue. On the contrary, they were cheerfully eager to roll up their sleeves and get to work, under new management.