They’ll have to make do. But conservative House Republicans are having a hard time finding anything praiseworthy to say about their party’s presumptive presidential nominee.
Fourteen GOP conservatives sat together Tuesday on a Capitol Hill panel to field questions from a few dozen reporters and other attendees about the political issues of the day. When asked, predictably, to provide their thoughts about Mitt Romney, they turned decidedly lukewarm.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) summed up the conservative mood with a joke that won laughter from the audience, but might have hit too close to home for many in the GOP.
“Whether you’re liberal, whether you’re very conservative,” he said, “you ought to be excited [about Romney] because he’s been on your side at one time or another.”
In a more serious moment, Gohmert acknowledged that the right is stuck with Romney, and needs to make the best of it.
“I’m not as excited as I am desperate,” he said. “It’s a desperate situation. We’ve got to get this White House in the hands of a new president.”
The highest praise any panelist could offer was that Republicans’ commitment to defeating President Obama will ultimately excite and unite conservatives — implying that Romney’s own qualities won’t suffice on their own, nor will they be the key motivating force for the GOP base.
“The excitement, the passion,” said Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), “will come from getting Barack Obama out of the White House.”
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) found many things to be excited about — including the opportunity to change course on policy and maintain the Supreme Court conservative majority — but Romney himself didn’t make the list.
“I’m excited that the process is over,” he said. “I’m excited that we have, potentially, a nominee that is going to be taking it to Obama. And I’m excited that we are going to be able to contrast visions between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), chairman of the influential, and deeply conservative Republican Study Committee, left no doubt that conservatives will work hard to elect Romney, given the alternative.
“I would say first, we’re excited about the opportunity to beat Barack Obama,” Jordan said. “You’re going to see conservatives unite behind [Romney] and do everything we can to help him win this November.”
Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) said it’s time for conservatives to get over their gripes.
“Face it, we got the best candidate that we could out of the process,” he said. “The primary worked. Competition works … And we got the best candidate we can get to beat this president, and for that reason I am excited about it.”
When it came to making the case for Romney, Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) did the best he could.
“I believe we’ve got a candidate in Mitt Romney who’s got experience as a businessman, as a senior executive, a chief executive,” he said. “And I believe we’re going to see America move forward.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.