There are two ways of thinking about Mitt Romney’s relationship with the Republican Party’s base and how it will affect the general election.
On the one hand, there is serious doubt among conservatives – particularly white evangelicals – that Romney truly shares their values and can be counted on to pursue them as president. They resisted supporting him through the primary season, even as his inevitability became apparent, and are poised to spend the fall campaign (and a Romney presidency, if it comes to pass) policing his actions and rhetoric for any hint of a sell-out. The need to placate these conservatives could severely complicate any effort by Romney to move toward the middle against Barack Obama.
On the other hand, there are plenty of conservatives who don’t seem to care about much besides beating Obama. They may not have been passionately pro-Romney before, but now that he’s the presumptive GOP nominee they’re not nearly as interested in scrutinizing him as they are in propping him up and scoring points against Obama.
Case in point: Sean Hannity, one of the most prominent and influential voices on the right. He’s also a cheerleader, one who treats virtually any Republican who hews to basic party orthodoxy as a friend and who mainly devotes his Fox News show to vilifying Democrats and the “liberal” media. Even on Fox, Hannity stands out for his lack of interest in asking tough questions to Republicans; not long ago, Bill O’Reilly called Hannity’s 9 P.M. program “a Republican show.”
This makes Hannity the best kind of friend Romney could have right now. And boy did it show last night, when Romney appeared on Hannity’s show. To call what transpired an “interview” is probably an abuse of that term. Really, it was just ten minutes of Hannity stoking his audience’s resentment of Democrats and using false or misleading statistics to set up familiar Romney talking points.
The show began with Hannity cueing up cueing up an anti-Obama Romney campaign video released earlier in the day. When it was over, Hannity introduced Romney, who appeared via satellite, and asked him to “explain why in your mind that ad is powerful.” After wiping the sweat from his brow, Romney launched into his standard attack on Obama’s failed leadership.
Here, word for word, are the questions that Hannity asked for the rest of the segment:
- "It seems the president and his campaign – and I noticed that David Axelrod took to Twitter today. And I asked you about this question a long, long time ago, and it was many, many years ago, where you had a family vacation and you put the dog kennel I guess on the top of the car, and I think the dog’s name was Seamus. And they tried to make this an issue today, just like they tried to make Sandra Fluke an issue, when the president called her. And the president’s been engaging in all these other issues. Do you think this is by design?"
- "You know, when you look at the statistics – and maybe this is why they want to talk about dogs in this campaign. He has now the worst economic record since any president since Jimmy Carter. The worst jobs record. He probably will end his first four years in office – and I don’t think he’ll have a second – without having created a net single job. But we’ll have job losses, rising unemployment, anemic growth at best – uh, $5 trillion we passed this mark in terms of debt. And he called George Bush unpatriotic for $4 trillion of debt in 8 years. What is your reaction to the debt number?"
- "Alright. Do you want to deal with the dog story? You had a dog named Seamus. And then after this came out – sort of like the Sandra Fluke controversy, and then the comments that were made about your wife. But tell us about the dog, and then what did you think of the revelation – it went viral today –in the president’s book, he admitted eating dog when he was growing up in Indonesia, and grasshoppers? And I didn’t make that up."
- "One thing I did want to ask you about is the comments that were made about your wife Ann. And this gets personal. We showed tape of President Obama, then-candidate Obama, saying that, hey, my wife is, you know, out of bounds, that crosses a line. He even said it was low. What do you think about this person close to the DNC making these comments about your wife, that she never worked a day in her life. Does that anger you?"
- "Alright, let’s look – interestingly, the president has been really, really hammering this class warfare message, which I would anticipate is going to grow stronger as the campaign goes on. He’s mentioned it at every stop. It doesn’t seem to be working. We have just this week four new polls out. One has you by five – that’s the Gallup poll. Rasmussen has you up by three, Fox News has you up by two, the New York Times/CBS poll has the race even. But by all accounts, there’s never been a race at this point with an incumbent president with these numbers this low that has gone on to win the presidency. So I assume you’re probably pretty energized by these numbers?"
- "What is the big difference – I’ll ask you this one last question. Because the president, interestingly, has very different tone back in 2007, 2008. But also then, he didn’t have a record. It seems the one thing he can’t run on is the answer to this question: Are you better off than you were four years ago? Can you afford $5 trillion more in new American debt if he had another term? So as you go forward, how do you battle the class warfare that seems to be a strategy – the negativity that I think is fairly predictable at this point?"
Again, even by Fox’s standards, Hannity is a joke when it comes to grilling Republicans. Other personalities at the channel probably would have asked Romney some real questions. But Hannity is among Fox’s highest-rated hosts, and he’s hardly the only conservative opinion-leader who’s dedicated to using his platform to help the Republican team wins in November. Their willingness to treat Romney the way Hannity did last night could give Romney some badly needed cover this summer and fall, as he looks for ways to appeal to swing voters.