Republicans Struggling to Praise Mitt Romney

The GOP is falling in line behind the all-but-inevitable nominee, but they're doing it with gritted teeth and a sense of obligation.

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Reuters

Coming up with nice things to say about Mitt Romney is hard, even for his supporters.

As Romney enters what seems to be the home stretch of the primary campaign, the Republican establishment is rallying around him. But the scene is less rah-rah than obligatory, with heavy sighs all around.

It's hardly news that Romney's not the most thrilling candidate, but the level of faint praise from major figures in his own party is nonetheless impressive. Now that they're falling in line, you'd think they could have come up with a little bit more flattering hyperbole for the man they'll be touting for the next seven months.

Take these statements from the GOP bigwigs who have expressed support for Romney in recent days:

  • Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin: "I am just convinced now that if we drag this thing on through the summer, it's going to make it that much harder to defeat Barack Obama this fall. That is why I think Mitt Romney is the best guy for the job, he'll make the best president, he has the best chance of winning, and the more we drag it out the harder it is to win in November, and that is why I think it's important we just coalesce as conservatives and focus on defeating the president in the fall."
  • Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida: "There are a lot of other people out there that some of us wish had run for president -- but they didn't. I think Mitt Romney would be a fine president, and he'd be way better than the guy who's there right now. [Romney is] plenty conservative enough to defeat Barack Obama and do a much better job."
  • Former President George H. W. Bush: "I do think it's time for the party to get behind Governor Romney. ... Kenny Rogers sang, 'It's time when to hold 'em and time when to fold 'em.' Well, I think it's time for people to all get behind this good man. And some of 'em waged a very good fight. I say that about some of his opponents. But we're so convinced and we've known Mitt for a very long time, that he's the man to do this job and get on and win the presidency, and, so, that's about it."
  • Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in a statement: "Primary elections have been held in thirty-four states, and now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall. I am endorsing Mitt Romney for our Party's nomination. We face huge challenges, and we need a leader who understands the economy, recognizes more government regulation is not the answer, believes in entrepreneurial capitalism and works to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to succeed."
  • Sen. Mike Lee, Utah: "If Republicans want to repeal President Obama's unconstitutional health-care plan, restore limited government and individual liberty, they must unite behind Mitt Romney. He is the one candidate who will be able to win in November and implement policies that conservatives like me have been fighting for in the Senate."
  • House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, California: "After a long and grueling primary, it is clear that Mitt Romney is the best candidate to face President Obama and fix the mess of his one and only term. Republicans need to unite and work together if we plan to take back the White House and put in place policies that will get our nation back on a path to prosperity by reducing taxes, shrinking government, and empowering the private sector."
  • Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina: "I'm not only comfortable with Romney, I'm excited about the possibility of him possibly being our nominee. This is not a formal endorsement and I do not intend to do that right now, but I just think we just need to look at where we are .... His leadership skills, the fact that he hasn't lived his life in Washington. There's a lot to like there."

Note the formulaic quality of all these statements of support; the admissions that Romney wasn't necessarily the first choice, especially in Rubio's case; the near-total lack of specific praise for Romney's accomplishments in business and government; the emphasis on electability and coming together for the sake of party unity. In Jeb Bush's case, he didn't even voice his support in person, only on paper; in DeMint's, he made sure to note his supportive words weren't a real endorsement. There's also remarkably little discussion from Romney's backers of what it is their candidate has to offer as a positive vision for the party and the country in his campaign.

Presumably, over the coming months, they'll get better at saying nice things about Romney. They're in the early stages of coming around now, but as they confront the other side and get put on the defensive, they'll probably get more forceful in their insistence that he's their guy. There are people -- a few -- who feel passionately about Romney. But to some of the biggest names in his own party, it's less love affair than arranged marriage.

The GOP is falling in like with Romney -- grudgingly, because they have to. But clearly, it doesn't come naturally.

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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