Mitt Romney focused on economic issues in his address to the Value Voters Summit this morning, part of clear shift in strategy from his last presidential run.
In 2008, Romney heavily courted social conservatives, but the strategy often backfired by drawing attention to his reversals on a number of issues such as abortion. This made him come off inauthentic to many primary voters. In the run up to what is widely believed to be a second presidential run, Romney has placed more emphasis on economic issues, which are not only topical but play into his background as a successful businessman. This shift was apparent earlier this year when I saw him speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and it continued today.
Romney opened up his speech to values voters with a harsh critique of President Obama, arguing that the lack of private sector experience among the administration’s advisors had led to economic policies that were an “abject failure.”
The first rule of a turnaround, Romney said, was “Focus, focus, focus.” But instead the Obama administration had pursed liberal policies such as national health care and cap and trade.
“He called it ambitious,” Romney said of Obama’s agenda, “I called it reckless.”
Other than a brief aside about the sanctity of life and marriage, Romney didn’t talk about issues that are traditionally considered social issues. Instead, he framed other issues as being a matter of values.
He outlined Obama’s assault on values, which included: spending and borrowing, redistributing wealth, passing government health care, and trying to end the secret ballot in union elections.
Romney recalled that when he was shopping in Wal-Mart, it hit him that businesses and institutions largely reflect the values of their founders. In the same way, he said, America reflects the love for liberty and pioneer spirit epitomized by our founders. He called these “founding values” that were being threatened by liberals’ lust for government power and attacks on free enterprise.
One gets the sense that Romney understands that he’s unlikely to become the top choice of social conservatives, and is content with the polite but not overwhelmingly supportive reception he gets with values voters. Instead, he’d rather position himself to the broader electorate with a message that fits him better.