Haley Barbour Says Mitt Romney’s 'Not That Conservative'

But the former RNC chairman says Mitt's moderation will play well in the general election.

By + More
In this Jan. 13, 2012 file photograph, former Gov. Haley Barbour tells reporters that says he's "very comfortable" with his decision to grant pardons or other clemency to more than 200 people in the last days in office at a news conference in Ridgeland, Miss. A month after Barbour's pardons were issued, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012 on whether those pardons complied with the letter of the law.

Etch A Sketch alert! Here's more fodder for conservatives worried about Mitt Romney's lack of ideological fidelity to the movement: GOP establishment fixture Haley Barbour said that the former Massachusetts governor is "not that conservative."

[Check out political cartoons about Mitt Romney.]

Barbour, a former Mississippi governor, Republican National Committee Chairman, and chairman of the Republican Governors Association, was arguing to reporters that—regardless of concerns raised by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that the party has become too ideologically narrow—the GOP remains a big tent party.

"There are a lot of people in the Republican Party who are not that conservative, including our nominee for president," Barbour told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. "He was the least conservative of the serious candidates." A lot of conservatives, he added, "didn't have Romney as their first choice—they rallied to him in the first week. In fact [Barack] Obama is the great uniter of Republicans."

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

Romney of course campaigned as a "severely conservative" Republican in the primaries. ("Campaigning where the base of your party is to the right of you, that takes a lot of discipline and effort and whatever," Barbour said, which could be interpreted as an exceedingly polite way of saying that Romney was skillful at masking his real philosophy.) But with the party safely united behind him, the moderate image redounds to Romney's benefit. As Barbour observed, "The people he's campaigning for are in the middle." Romney, he said, will be more "adept at campaigning for those votes. And in that sense it may turn out to be advantageous that he became the nominee because the vote that is sought after is closer to where he is on the ideological spectrum than where Haley is on the ideological spectrum."

Romney has been dogged for flip-floppery ever since he challenged Sen. Edward Kennedy as a Massachusetts moderate but then campaigned for the 2008 GOP presidential nod as a culture warrior conservative. But the Obama campaign has largely abandoned that line of attack for fear that moderate voters will ignore the hard right positions he has had to take in order to secure the GOP nomination, believing that in office Mitt the moderate will govern. With the campaign having had a rough couple of weeks, The Hill reports, some Democrats are yearning for a return to that criticism of the GOP nominee.

  • See political cartoons about the 2012 presidential campaign.
  • Follow the Thomas Jefferson Street blog on Twitter at @TJSBlog.
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy