WASHINGTON - The chorus of voices knocking Mitt Romney for running an "anybody but Obama" campaign and calling on him to do more continues to grow louder.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Former Bush White House policy adviser Yuval Levin. The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan. The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol. National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru. The New York Times' David Brooks. Politico's Jonathan Martin. Slate's John Dickerson. The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin. And Noonan again.
All of these people -- either conservative supporters or nonpartisan, credible voices in the media -- have said Romney is either failing to provide a compelling vision for his candidacy or failing to lay out sufficient detail to explain how he would govern if elected president.
Romney has often, in fact, relied on vague and reassuring promises about what his presidency would look like. On Tuesday, he guaranteed an "economic resurgence" in the U.S. if he's elected.
"You're going to see this economy take off," he told supporters at a New Jersey fundraiser. "And I say that because I know what I'm going to do, and I know what kind of impact it will have."
But Romney's comment had a "trust me" tone to it that plays into the hands of those who say he has not offered enough specifics. In his stump speech he runs through several policy areas, and he has offered detailed plans on several issues. But he has taken lumps for not commenting on what he'd do regarding immigration, for not saying what tax loopholes he would close or which government agencies he might eliminate, and for being fuzzy on foreign policy and financial regulation.
On the other hand, it's no small matter that he is even talking at all, for example, about eliminating entire government agencies.
Notably, Romney has not publicly addressed the critiques and complaints that he is running a small and soulless campaign.
But in a recent interview, Romney's senior economic adviser, Glenn Hubbard, argued that Romney has taken significant political risks in some of the promises he's made.
"He's given some pretty uncomfortable details for most politicians," Hubbard told HuffPost. "For example, he said he'd block-grant the Medicaid program. I don't think that's a crowd pleaser. So he's been fairly specific."
Hubbard focused largely on spending, and said Romney's promise to reduce government expenditures to 20 percent of the gross domestic product was the key to cutting back.
"It's not that difficult to get government spending back to 20 percent of GDP," Hubbard said. "That's what we had before the crisis. Harder, politically, is the entitlements. And there again he's been specific in both the Social Security and Medicare."
Hubbard acknowledged that "if you fight cut by cut," getting government spending back to 20 percent of GDP (from its current level of 24 percent) would be much harder.
"But if you make the macro argument that if we can't get government spending back down, we will have to raise taxes, and we'd have to raise taxes on everyone ... you can have the discussion and force the cuts," he said.
Hubbard said he was convinced that Romney has the leadership abilities necessary to put the brakes on government spending and lead a revamp of Medicare and Social Security.
"He is a very clear analytical thinker and very good at expositing what a problem is," Hubbard said. "He's got policies, but this isn't even about policies. This is more like diagnosis, not medicine. Just to tell the American people, can we all agree that this is the problem? And then President Obama maybe will fix it this way, and Governor Romney will fix it this way. But we've got to get people focused at least on the size of the problem. Then we can fight about what to do about it."
But Hubbard's own forecast has failed to materialize so far.
Romney has not often talked in a way that contrasts his plan for spending and entitlements with the president's, even though he and Obama do have starkly different positions. Romney has instead focused on Obama's health care law and other policies that are generally unpopular, and blamed Obama and his policies for making a severe recession worse and for hampering the nation's economic recovery.
This is the core of Romney's strategy: avoid the spotlight and keep it on Obama. The calculation is that the stagnant economy and fears of further trouble will drive voters away from the president and to Romney's side. Even the Romney campaign's response to HuffPost on the question of Romney's candidacy followed a simple formula: step one, talk about the economy, and step two, wallop Obama.
Step one: "The focus of this campaign is getting the economy back on track and we’ve released a 160-page guide for how Gov. Romney would do just that," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in an email.
Step two: "We are still waiting for a single plan or new idea from President Obama that would help the economy," she wrote.
John Weaver, a Republican political consultant who managed former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's presidential campaign, said Romney is making a mistake in not giving independent voters more reason to support him.
"He needs to have some meat to the bones in order to give people the comfort factor to vote for him," Weaver said. "Because at the end of the day, if this is still a close election in late October, the president is the default guy because they know him, and they do like him. They like him personally. They don't like Mitt Romney personally. So they gotta give him some other reasons to support him."
"Maybe he's principled. Maybe they're going to say, 'Well we don't really care for him but we know where he's going to take us,'" Weaver said. "Right now it's, 'We like the president. We're unhappy with the economy, versus a guy we don't really like who's not saying anything but just betting on the economy staying bad.' I don't think that's a winning bet."
Romney has done enough, however, to make himself a moving target. He has offered selective details that allow him to defend himself on the policy critique, even as he has avoided other more politically troublesome promises.
As for articulating a clear vision, Romney has in fact tried -- but he's just not very good at it. It does not come at all naturally to him.
The critical time for vision-casting, however, is usually the party convention in August. And the three presidential debates in the fall will be key for both Romney and Obama in their attempts to win undecided voters over to their side.
There's still a good chunk of time left before the campaign hits the fourth quarter.
"We have five lifetimes between now and November," Weaver said. "I don't think you can change your image as likable or unlikable, but you can become a guy that the country says, 'Well, you know, he's not my cup of tea but we're in a bad economy and at least he's going to take us X.'"
"And right now, they don't have that. And there's no reason not to."
<strong>Who:</strong> Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> McDonnell <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/20/bob-mcdonnell-mitt-romney-endorsement_n_1218559.html" target="_hplink">endorsed Mitt Romney</a>, the only candidate besides Ron Paul to make it on his state's ballot, and Romney <a href="http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0711/59933.html#ixzz1TJCfqwQ4" target="_hplink">said last summer </a>that McDonnell would be on "any candidate's short-list" as a VP pick. Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)<a href="http://goosecreek.patch.com/articles/veep-speculation-greets-mcdonnell-in-s-c" target="_hplink"> has already started referring </a>to McDonnell as "Mr. Vice President." <strong>His Response:</strong> McDonnell said on "Meet The Press" in March that he wasn't interested in the position. "I've got the job held by Jefferson and Henry," <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/maryland-politics/post/martin-omalley-touts-bob-mcdonnell-for-vice-president-kind-of/2012/03/11/gIQATP6I5R_blog.html" target="_hplink">he said</a>. "I love being governor of Virginia."
<strong>Who:</strong> New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Christie <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/04/chris-christie-president-2012_n_948401.html" target="_hplink">fielded numerous calls</a> to run in 2012, and is now attracting speculation as a possible VP pick by Mitt Romney, who called Christie, "one of the leading figures in the Republican party." <strong>His Response:</strong> Christie didn't do much to quell the rumors in December when he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/23/chris-christie-vice-president-mitt-romney_n_1167557.html" target="_hplink">addressed them</a> by saying: <blockquote>I don't think you talk about that stuff. I think if you're the nominee you're afraid to talk about that stuff because you don't want to jinx yourself. I don't think [Romney] wants to be presumptuous enough to start talking to somebody about a vice president when he's not yet the nominee.</blockquote>
<strong>Who:</strong> Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Newt Gingrich <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/newt-gingrich-marco-rubio_n_1242912.html" target="_hplink">called Rubio</a> an "awfully good" choice, while Mitt Romney named him as an obvious choice for the short-list. As the Huffington Post's Carlos Harrison <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/02/marco-rubio-tea-party_n_1249480.html?ref=gingrich-2012" target="_hplink">reported</a>, "He's the posterboy for a demographic coveted by the GOP: a telegenic Tea Party favorite and a Latino. And despite being both young and a freshman among Washington, D.C., power brokers, he exerts outsized influence." <strong>His Response:</strong> Rubio himself <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/10/i-am-not-going-to-be-the-vp-nominee/" target="_hplink">seems less enthusiastic</a>: <blockquote>When asked at the Washington Ideas Forum at the Newseum in Washington DC, Rubio repeated twice for emphasis, "I am not going to be the Vice Presidential nominee. I am not going to be the Vice Presidential nominee." Asked during the forum if he would turn down an offer if the Republican presidential nominee asks him to, Rubio responded, "Yea, I believe so," adding again, "the answer is gonna be no."</blockquote>
<strong>Who:</strong> Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Ahead of the Nevada caucus, Sandoval <a href="http://2012.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/02/could-mitt-romney-pick-up-a-vp-in-nevada.php" target="_hplink">was speculated</a> to be a potential VP pick: <blockquote>Nevada's governor Brian Sandoval has been bandied about as a potential -- if longshot -- veep choice since his election in 2010. On paper, his resume looks solid. He's a young rising star in the party with strong approval ratings and, as a Hispanic Republican, could help a Republican nominee -- and especially Romney -- stop the bleeding with one of the party's weakest general election demographics. </blockquote> While no candidates have floated his name for VP yet, Mitt Romney <a href="http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2012/jan/26/mitt-romney-mentions-brian-sandoval-cabinet-possib/" target="_hplink">did mention him</a> as a possible Cabinet member. <strong>His Response:</strong> After endorsing Rick Perry last September, Sandoval <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2011/09/16/nevada-gov-brian-sandoval-wont-be-rick-perrys-vice-presidential-pick/" target="_hplink">denied that he was looking for a VP nod</a>. "I am absolutely committed to serving out my term," he said.
<strong>Who:</strong> South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Haley's endorsement of Mitt Romney <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/22/nikki-haley-romney_n_1221682.html" target="_hplink">didn't do him much good</a> in the state, but her name has still come up as a possible candidate for VP. <strong>Her Response:</strong> "I'd say, 'Thank you, but no,'" <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/News/south-carolina-gov-nikki-haley-shed-turn-vp/story?id=16050396#.T3nGGCvLx1Z" target="_hplink">Haley told ABC News</a>. "I made a promise to the people of this state. And I think that promise matters. And I intend to keep it."
<strong>Who:</strong> New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Martinez has attracted attention as the first female Hispanic governor, and Mitt Romney <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2012/01/23/new-mexico-gov-susana-martinez-says-no-thanks-to-mention-her-as-possible-romney/" target="_hplink">mentioned her</a> as a good possible running mate. <strong>Her Response:</strong> Martinez <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/205571-nm-governor-not-interested-in-vp-spot" target="_hplink">has said</a> she's flattered, but not interested: <blockquote>"She has no interest in serving as vice president and will not be a candidate for the position," Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said in a statement according to the Santa Fe New Mexican on Friday. </blockquote>
<strong>Who:</strong> Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Barbour was considered a promising candidate for the 2012 nomination until he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/25/haley-barbour-2012-presid_n_851969.html" target="_hplink">decided not to run</a> last summer. Mitt Romney has mentioned Barbour as a name <a href="http://www.examiner.com/charleston-democrat-in-charleston-sc/romney-names-possible-vp-candidates" target="_hplink">he'd consider</a> for vice president. <strong>His Response:</strong> Barbour wouldn't turn down the possibility of being VP, but he said he didn't anticipate being asked. "I don't think I'm a good running mate for anybody, but I do think Marco Rubio would be very attractive as would other people," <a href="http://foxnewsinsider.com/2011/11/07/mississippi-gov-haley-barbour-on-whether-he-would-consider-being-a-vp-pick-in-2012/" target="_hplink">he told FOX last November</a>.
<strong>Who:</strong> Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Daniels hasn't endorsed a candidate yet, but he's considered a potential pick for the VP slot. His book, "Keeping the Republic: Saving America by Trusting Americans," <a href="http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2011/09/19/mitch_daniels_stirs_vp_buzz_with_new_book_111382.html" target="_hplink">added to the hype</a>. <strong>His Response:</strong> Daniels was asked about the possibility <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/30/2012-gop-vice-presidential-candidate_n_988558.html" target="_hplink">last fall</a>: <blockquote>"There's no answer to this question," Daniels said when the vice president's job came up while he was promoting his book. He said he'd have to consult his family, which earlier vetoed the idea of him running for president.</blockquote>
<strong>Who:</strong> Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Brewer made headlines for a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/jan-brewer-pac-obama-fundraiser_n_1241794.html" target="_hplink">confrontation with President Barack Obama</a> at an airport in Phoenix. Does Brewer want another chance to take on the Obama administration? The <a href="http://www.azcentral.com/news/election/azelections/articles/2011/10/16/20111016brewer-vice-president-hopeful.html" target="_hplink">Arizona Republic</a> reports that her name has surfaced as a possible VP candidate. <strong>Her Response:</strong> None so far.
<strong>Who:</strong> Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Pawlenty was a short-lived presidential candidate, quitting in the summer after a third-place finish in the Iowa straw polls. He later endorsed Mitt Romney, who named him as a <a href="http://www.examiner.com/charleston-democrat-in-charleston-sc/romney-names-possible-vp-candidates" target="_hplink">possible VP candidate</a>. <strong>His Response:</strong> Pawlenty <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/tim-pawlenty-mitt-romney-vice-president_n_1299377.html" target="_hplink">said in an interview</a> that he'd taken himself "off the list" to be considered as Romney's VP.
<strong>Who:</strong> Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Portman is a supporter of Mitt Romney. In December, his home state's <em>Dayton Daily News</em><a href="http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/politics/portman-still-viable-as-vp-nominee-1301194.html" target="_hplink"> ran an article</a> touting his chances to become VP: <blockquote>His deep resume and absence of political negatives keep him in the discussion as a vice-presidential candidate. "I would be very surprised if the eventual nominee doesn't have Rob on the short list,'' said Tony Fratto, who served as White House press secretary to former President George W. Bush.</blockquote> <strong>His Response:</strong> Portman is noncommittal about being on anyone's presidential ticket. "I truly am not seeking that," he said in an interview with the Dayton Daily News' Washington Bureau.
<strong>Who:</strong> Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Jindal, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/12/bobby-jindal-rick-perry-endorsement-2012_n_959162.html" target="_hplink">who endorsed Rick Perry</a>, has seen his star fade <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/02/25/bobby-jindal-response-pan_n_169710.html" target="_hplink">since his widely panned State of the Union response</a> in 2009. But he is still viewed as a potential pick. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) <a href="http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2011/11/gov-scott-bobby-jindal-would-be-a-great-vp.html" target="_hplink">praised him</a>, saying, "He's well-liked. He's a nice person to deal with. He clearly cares about people. He's willing to make tough choices," Scott said. "So I think he would make a great vice president." <strong>His Response:</strong> "I don't want a job from Governor Perry," Jindal <a href=" http://blog.chron.com/rickperry/2011/09/bobby-jindal-wont-be-rick-perrys-vp-but-says-hes-a-great-neighbor/" target="_hplink">said after endorsing the former candidate</a>. "I want Governor Perry to create millions of jobs for my fellow Americans."
<strong>Who:</strong> Sen. Jon Thune (R-S.D.) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Thune, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/22/john-thune-2012-not-running-for-president_n_826582.html" target="_hplink">once viewed</a> as a potential 2012 candidate himself, has <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/23/mitt-romney-john-thune-endorsement_n_1109456.html" target="_hplink">since endorsed Mitt Romney</a>. <strong>His Response:</strong> Thune has said he's not interested in the VP role, but<a href="http://www.kcautv.com/story/16449478/south-dakota-senator-john-thune-not-interested-in-vp-race" target="_hplink"> he wouldn't rule anything out</a>.
<strong>Who:</strong> Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Ayotte was an early supporter of Mitt Romney. He gave her an endorsement of his own, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/22/mitt-romney-kelly-ayotte_n_1108125.html" target="_hplink">naming her</a> as a possible pick for vice president. <strong>Her Response:</strong> Ayotte said she was "surprised" by Romney's comment, but that "certainly it was an honor to be mentioned." "I am very committed to representing New Hampshire," she <a href="http://www.unionleader.com/article/20111130/NEWS0605/711309959" target="_hplink">told the <em>New Hampshire Union Leader</em></a>. "It is such a privilege to serve New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate."
<strong>Who:</strong> Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Brownback endorsed Rick Perry for president, <a href="http://www.kansas.com/2011/09/23/2029027/brownback-endorses-perry-for-president.html" target="_hplink">prompting speculation</a> that he could be looking for a spot as vice president. Brownback also briefly ran for president in 2008. <strong>His Response:</strong> During the last election cycle, Brownback <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/03/13/brownback-would-be-honore_n_91341.html" target="_hplink">said he'd be "honored"</a> to serve as John McCain's vice president. He hasn't yet commented this time around.
<strong>Who:</strong> Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> West has been named as a strong contender by a number of his peers, including Herman Cain, <a href="http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entries/herman-cain-endorses-allen-west-for-vice-presdient" target="_hplink">who called him an "excellent choice"</a>, and Nikki Haley, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/05/nikki-haley-allen-west_n_1405401.html" target="_hplink">who said he would make a "good" pick</a>. <strong>His Response:</strong> "Yes, well, right now, you know, the focus is, of course, being a good congressional representative," <a href="http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2012/04/06/allen_west_i_would_say_yes_to_vp_slot_on_gop_ticket.html" target="_hplink">West told CNN's Kyra Phillips</a>. "But if someone were to make that call to me, which I really doubt is ever going to happen, you would have to make sure that it is something that god would ordain for you, and you'd have to talk to your wife, my wife and my two daughters about. But we have always stepped up to the plate to serve our country. And if it's the right fit, then I will do so."