Last week Mitt Romney announced the formation of his presidential exploratory committee for 2012. Two weeks ago, while visiting friends in Las Vegas, I stopped off at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s winter meeting in Las Vegas. In light of Romney’s recent move, this seems like a good time to report on Romney’s remarks to the RJC, an organization that has been steadily gaining membership and is viewed by some as a force in influencing selection of Republican presidential nominees.
Romney opened his remarks by thanking Sheldon Adelson, the hotel and casino magnate and prominent Republican Jewish activist who hosted the winter meeting at the Venetian Hotel and Casino, one of his properties.
“Thank you to the Adelsons for opening your home; nice li’l place you’ve got here,” Romney joked.
The first half of Romney’s talk covered foreign policy. Specifically, he characterized President Obama as a poor negotiator whose policies he termed “extraordinarily devastating” to U.S. standing in the world.
Romney spoke about how, since the 1940’s, U.S. foreign policy has confronted evil. Doing so required acknowledging good and evil. “We would link our arms with friends around the world because we can be stronger united than alone,” Romney said.
About the movement afoot in the United Nations to support a unilateral Palestinian Authority declaration of statehood in September Romney said, “It would be reprehensible for the United States ever to accede to a unilateral request” for creation of a Palestinian state without Israel’s agreement.
Regarding uprisings in Iran after the 2009 “election” of Ahmadinejad, Romney objected to Obama’s sluggish response, saying, “instead of cheering these people on he had nothing to say.”
During Obama’s inaugural address to the United Nations, Romney said, Obama “castigate[d] Israel for settlements while having nothing to say about Hamas launching thousands of rockets into Israel.”
Of Obama’s mindset in general, Romney said, “He is following this belief we all have common interests…but some people want to oppress other people. We are not like those people and we don’t have common interests with them; we have common interests with people who love and want freedom.”
Regarding Syria, he added, “I am dismayed hearing our Secretary of State characterize Mr. Assad as a ‘reformer.'”
He critiqued what he called the “devastating” effects of what he characterized as President Obama’s inexperience with negotiations: “The President’s inexperience in negotiations contributes to less than positive developments on the Israeli/Palestinian negotiating front. He wanted to show the world he was impartial. But you want to start a negotiation locked arms with your allies. [Instead,] he gave the Palestinians a signal they could get a better deal [by not negotiating].”
Simultaneously, Romney contends, Obama’s adoption of a neutral stance was a disincentive to Israel.
“The Israelis …pulled out of Lebanon, and Iran moved in [through their surrogates Hezbollah], they pulled out of Gaza and Iran moved in [through their surrogates Hamas]. So [they are thinking] … if we pull out of the West Bank, it could be existential…so the only way we can do this is to know the U.S. stands with us.”
He went on to discuss Obama’s handling of domestic policy.
Obama, Romney said, “didn’t create the financial crisis. It was already underway [when he took office].”
However, the financial crisis “became worse” after Obama took office, Romney said.
He argued that the President has “caused a deepening and lengthening of the downturn” by “delegating to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.”
In particular, Romney criticized the decision to “send money to protect state workers,” cap and trade, and what he characterized as the effort to “unionize every business.”
These efforts and others, Romney said, have resulted in “massive deficits as far as the eye can see.”
Romney added, “In business, you can deal with bad news, but one thing you can’t deal with is uncertainty.” In the atmosphere created by Obama’s polices, according to Romney, “people who hire a lot don’t know what to do because they do not know what costs are going to be.”
Romney characterized Obama’s attitude toward American business as negative and implied this attitude underlies many of the President’s domestic policy decisions.
“I think [the President] sees business as a necessary evil and maybe not even necessary,” Romney said.
Romney made a point to highlight remarks President Obama has made about Las Vegas.
“Time and again this President has disparaged Las Vegas,” Romney told the crowd of mostly Jewish professionals and businesspeople from around the U.S. who had traveled to Vegas for the meeting. “Businesses were afraid to come here with conventions … afraid they would be singled out. In contrast, when New York City was having economic hard times [Rudy] Giuliani said, ‘Please come here.’ Let’s hope our President … ‘does a Giuliani’ and invites Americans back to Vegas.”
Romney characterized himself, in contrast to Obama, as a leader who loves America’s free enterprise system.
“I love entrepreneurs and creators and I think that’s what makes us special,” he said.
Regarding his own experience, he said, “I’ve spent 25 years in the private sector, and I spent four years serving my state as governor. I have not been in government so long I’ve inhaled. I’m still a business guy.”
He said that, as governor of Massachusetts, he proposed letting private companies run prisons. Many in the state opposed him, arguing that such prisons would be “more expensive to run because they will need to make a profit.”
“I told them, ‘I don’t think you understand the way the free enterprise system works,'” Romney said.
Romney also said, “I’m not looking for ways to make rich people richer-” and with a glance toward Adelson interjected, “Sorry Sheldon” then added, “I’m looking for ways to help ordinary Americans get good jobs.”
He added, “Some would apologize for America. I find that a strange thing. Our free enterprise system has lifted billions out of poverty. [There has been] nothing like it in the history of the earth. The blood of our sons and daughters has brought liberty around the earth. Let us remain the hope of the earth.”
After his talk, Romney introduced his wife, Ann. Her brief remarks included: “What a wonderful thing that your Jewish heritage is something you cherish … Mitt and I can appreciate coming from another heritage,” and then he then took questions from the audience.
One man who introduced himself as a urologist referenced the healthcare law Romney had passed as governor of Massachusetts, and expressed concern that Romney, as President, would maintain or expand Obama’s federally mandated system of healthcare.
“I’d never impose something we did in our state on other states,” Romney said, adding, “If I were lucky enough to become President, I’d grant a waiver from Obamacare and then go to work getting it repealed.”
He prefaced this response by saying that at present, all Americans do have health care coverage (in cases of emergency or serious illness), and that the taxpayer picks up the tab. He initiated and signed into law a state system of healthcare in Massachusetts, he said, in reaction to research that showed some people in the state were deliberately choosing not to buy health insurance because they knew that if they were to get sick or hurt, they would be able to go to an emergency room. “Those who can pay, should pay for themselves,” he said.
Another attendee asked, “Recently Donald Trump has begun a brassy attack against President Obama.” He went on to ask whether, if he were to be the Republican nominee, Romney would be aggressive enough in his campaigning, and added, “There’s a perception you are too much of a gentleman.”
Romney said, “I won’t go after people on innuendo or personal attack, just policy. [But] I will take him on aggressively.”
He added, regarding healthcare, “If we get to talk about healthcare, I’d tell him, ‘Why didn’t you call me and ask what worked and what didn’t?'”
To my co-religionists, a good Passover ““ and to my Catholic family and friends, a peaceful and reflective Lent.