In Skipping Trump Debate, Romney Risks Alienating Conservatives

Participating in the Trump/Newsmax debate could help Romney reach out to the conservative votes he needs.

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Conservatives have an obvious problem with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Despite being the anointed frontrunner for much of the campaign, Romney has not yet managed to consolidate his lead. In the polls he never manages to show the support of more than about a third of likely primary voters and caucus goers, suggesting there is some kind of a ceiling in place that he just can't break through. Whether conservatives don't trust him or simply don't like him, for some other reason he's having a tough time convincing them to back his presidential bid.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney]

Now that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has surged into the lead nationally and in Iowa, Romney is taking the gloves off. He's hitting Gingrich harder than in the past, but that won't necessarily help him with the party's conservative base, the folks who—more likely than not—are going to determine who gets to challenge President Barack Obama next November. In fact instead of building bridges to them it looks like he's going the other way.

Romney will be spending more time in Iowa in the coming weeks in an effort to generate support. However says he's going to skip the debate that Donald Trump is going to moderate that is being organized by Newsmax, a news magazine and website widely read by the conservative activists and politicos that are just the type of people Romney needs to convince he can be president.

[Read the U.S. News debate on whether Republican presidential candidates should participate in Donald Trump's debate.]

It's a small point but, some people are already saying, a telling one. Having participated in all the debates thus far—including the ones sponsored by the cable news and broadcast networks and the one backed by two major conservative think tanks, Romney is taking a pass on the one most likely to be of interest to the kind of conservatives who most need to be convinced that he has the stuff it takes to be the next president.

[Read Grover Norquist: Donald Trump and Newsmax Should Host a GOP Debate, Not MSNBC and CNN.]

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has given Romney and the other Republicans who have elected not to participate cover by suggesting that having Trump as moderator while the New York billionaire is still considering an independent bid for the White House is not appropriate. Still, it is an opportunity to reach conservatives across the country—the debate will be aired on ION Television and simulcast over the web site. By not participating, Romney is not only missing the chance to take his message directly to the people he most needs to hear it, he risks alienating them just a little bit at a time when he can ill afford to do so.

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