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Politics

Romney Campaign Needed 'Conservative Issues'

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Even before Tuesday's presidential election, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was speculating on the possibility of a defeat of Mitt Romney. And he said the following to Politico: If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn't conservative enough, I'm going to go nuts. Graham went on to say we're not losing 95 percent of African Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we're not being hard ass enough. The words of Senator Lindsey Graham.

Apparently it's time for him to go nuts, because long time conservative activist Richard Viguerie, who is chairman of American Target Advertising, a direct marketing agency, and a prominent figure in the conservative movement has been arguing that, in fact, Mitt Romney was not conservative enough.

Welcome to the program, sir.

RICHARD VIGUERIE: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: So, how would you say that Mitt Romney was not conservative enough?

VIGUERIE: Well, it's not a question of his position on different issues. You take the Republican platform that came out of Tampa, Florida this August was probably the most conservative Republican platform, certainly adopted in my lifetime. But it was never heard from again.

The Democrats had a very ideological convention. They put speaker after speaker from the far left of the political spectrum. Romney held certain conservative positions, but he did not campaign on them. He did not campaign on pro-life, on the HHS mandate for health care, which upset so many of the Catholic leaders.

INSKEEP: That had to do with contraception being provided in health plans. Right. You're saying - so Democrats might not agree that they were far left positions, but they were speaking openly about women's rights, about contraception, about the right to choose. And you're arguing that there was not a counter narrative from the Republican side, really.

VIGUERIE: Exactly. In some ways, Mitt Romney ran the type of campaign that Michael Dukakis did in 1988 against George H. W. Bush. He ran one of I am competent. And ideology almost always will trump technology.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about that, because I'm sure if Romney were sitting here he might plausibly say, listen, the economy was the central issue and I need to win over all kinds of people and not necessarily culture warriors.

VIGUERIE: Well, I wouldn't strongly disagree with that. What Romney was saying was that Obama's policies have failed, so let's try my policies. Well, failure is not very scary. We all fail. Each and every one of us fail many times during the course of a day. He didn't talk about how dangerous, how radical Obama's policies were. Obama promised to fundamentally change America.

INSKEEP: Immigration is effectively a social issue, or a cultural issue, as well as an economic issue. And it's one where Romney was extremely conservative in the primaries, and then said little later on. But his position was known, and he lost he overwhelmingly majority of the Hispanic vote. Should he have played up that issue?

VIGUERIE: Well, he handled the Hispanic issue, the Asian issue, I thought, very, very poorly. There's many, many areas where Hispanics, Asians share views and values with Republicans, with conservatives. But that conversation was just, almost, never held - traditional values and entrepreneurial spirit that's strong in the Hispanic and Asian community. And Romney just, you know, ran away from those issues.

And, you know, he has a hard time talking to people at, kind of, the grassroots level. You remember, as I certainly do, when he spoke to conservatives earlier this year at the CPAC Conference. He talked about being a severe conservative. He just is not able to engage most people in conversation in a way that really resonates and connects with them.

INSKEEP: You're suggesting to me that the average conservative activist does not go around talking about himself as a severe?

(LAUGHTER)

VIGUERIE: Yes. To this day, we still laugh and joke about that among conservatives - who's more of a severe conservative than the other one.

INSKEEP: You know, we were talking with a voter who is of Puerto Rican descent who describes talking with her mother over the summer. And her mother, she says, has always been a Republican, is just a natural Republican, conservatively inclined, but was repelled by Mitt Romney and his message. There was something that she just found really off-putting. Is there something about the way the Republican Party presents itself that is repelling minority voters?

VIGUERIE: Absolutely, Steve. And I think that Republicans don't need to change their principles. They don't need to change their philosophy. But they need to address how they are dealing with Hispanics, how their conversation is being heard. And in my opinion, the number one most effective way to reach minorities is to run minorities.

And we're beginning to do that. We have the Marco Rubios, the Nikki Haley, governor of South Carolina, and now senator-elect Ted Cruz from Texas and Susana Martinez, governor of New Mexico. So we're beginning to run these minorities. And I think you'll see the Republican Party reach out and really kind of change the face of the Republican Party, so when people see the Republican Party they see themselves represented, nicely, throughout the elected officials.

INSKEEP: Would you say to your fellow Republicans, listen, immigration reform, this resistance you've had to immigration reform, that's just too ugly, it's too divisive, it's costing you too many votes. Make a deal with the Democrats, get that done, move on.

VIGUERIE: No. Not at all. I don't believe that we should abandon our principles, abandon the rule of law with the illusion that it might get us a few more Hispanic votes. I think that we have to change our tone in speaking to the Hispanic community, in speaking to America.

INSKEEP: Richard Viguerie, thanks very much for taking the time.

VIGUERIE: My pleasure, sir.

INSKEEP: Other conservatives are responding differently to the election. Sean Hannity of Fox News, a reliable Republican voice, said this to his radio audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW)

INSKEEP: And on ABC, Republican House Speaker John Boehner said comprehensive immigration reform is overdue and he's ready to work with President Obama to do it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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