Pete King on the language problems of Romney and Santorum, and the Obama-Hillary comparison

pete-king-language-problems-romney-and-santorum-and-obama-hillary-c
Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum. (ABC News)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

After Arizona and Michigan last night, Representative Peter King thinks Mitt Romney is "in better shape than he's been in a while," and there's "no one else in the field right now who could stop him." 

But King, who hasn't officially endorsed a candidate in the primary but has at times been something of an unofficial surrogate for Romney, tempered his assessment. He said Arizona was a "breakout victory," but conceded it was largely subsumed by the narrative coming out of Michigan, where Romney's three-point win was more of a narrowly averted disaster than a breakout.

"The fact that he only won by three points, in what is his state, no matter what you say—if you're born in that state, you're raised in that state, and your father is the governor, probably the most famous person to come out of that state—that's your state," King said.

To King, the results in Michigan were emblematic of a language problem in the Republican primary: Romney can't connect with conservatives, and his closest rival, Rick Santorum, can't help connecting with them.

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

"Even apart from the Tea Party people, committed conservatives, well-read conservatives, people who've been reading National Review, or people who followed Goldwater or Reagan, when they look at Romney he's not speaking their language. And when he does speak it, it's obvious he's reading it," King said.

As for Santorum: "He doesn't know how to articulate [his social policy] to a broad audience. In many ways, Ronald Reagan might have been saying the same thing that Rick Santorum was, but he made it in a way that was going to reassure his followers but not scare off other people.

"And that's part of the problem we have in politics today. You can spend a whole career talking to the same audience, and I think Rick for the last however many years has been dealing with very evangelical Christian audiences, which is fine, but doesn't realize when he's saying something that's sounding extreme to the average audience."

"He's raising a cutting-edge issue—whether it's on abortion or it's religious liberty—and the mainstream tide is against you," King said. "If you're going to make those points, you have to be very precise in how you make them, and make them in a way that's going to appeal to a mainstream audience or at least minimize the negative impact. He just said them in a way that scared off independent voters."

He offered a local comparison.

"It would be like taking a Democrat out of the west side of Manhattan, and putting him in Mississippi," he said. "No matter how he tries, he's not going to realize how many mistakes he's making."

King said he was sympathetic to Santorum's point about the role of religion in public life, but for the candidate to say he wants to "throw up" when hearing John Kennedy's famous speech only "trivializes a complicated issue," and, again, strikes many non-evangelical voters as extreme.

"I don't know if Rick has ever gone into a reform temple and discussed for an hour his position on church-state," he said.

King said that as long as Romney can "stay alive" through Super Tuesday, with a few wins and some strong performances, his superior fund-raising and organization should make him the candidate. 

He also rejected the notion advanced by some Republicans that a long, competitive primary would make these candidates stronger, like it did with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008.

"I think it is hurting the party," he said. "Everyone talks about Obama and Hillary, but it was not that personal. They may have felt it was personal, but they kept it pretty much a policy level."

King said the personal nature of the campaign had hurt all the candidates.

"One of the things I've found, is when you're in one of these arguments, you cannot win it," he said. "Because if a guy calls you a no-good rotten liar, there's no way you can just say 'I disagree with you.' You've got to go back at the guy and somehow respond in kind, and you both get hurt. So I think that's what it is, they're looking like a bunch of mindless brawlers, and the president is coming across as being above the battle."