Having officially suspended his presidential bid today, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is now poised to hit the campaign trail for his one-time political rival Mitt Romney, declared Al Cardenas, chairman of the influential American Conservative Union, in an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV.
“Every day there are hundreds of requests for appearances on behalf of the campaign. A candidate can only do 1 or 2 percent of those,” Cardenas said shortly before Gingrich’s announcement on Wednesday.
“Having exciting speakers, exciting surrogates, is a must, and Newt’s going to be right on top of that list because very few people can excite a crowd like Newt can. He’s indispensable in this war on messaging.”
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Gingrich, who stopped short of formally endorsing Romney in his remarks, said that it was clear that the former Massachusetts governor would be the party’s standard bearer. He told Newsmax in an exclusive interview last week that it is “highly unlikely” he would be asked to join forces with Romney as a potential running mate, though he remained open to the possibility.
Cardenas said that Gingrich will be a “very, very threatening foe” to the Obama campaign as a political surrogate.
“And he’ll know how to take it to them. So getting on board with Mitt early, being willing to be a good surrogate for the campaign is a huge deal,” added Cardenas.
While his short list of vice presidential picks does not include Gingrich, it did include Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, of New Hampshire.
“There are two candidates I would also add to your list: one is my good friend — the former governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, and the other one is Gov. Mike Huckabee, now a Floridian,” said Cardenas, a Floridian. “That’s a heck of a list.”
The two most important considerations in picking a vice presidential running mate, is that the candidate be “ready to be president on day one” and that there be “no surprises” in his or her background that can potentially cost Romney the election in November, according to Cardenas.
“I don’t think Mitt needs to stretch. I think he ought to choose who he thinks he can work with best,” said Cardenas. “It’s a huge undertaking to get this country turned around. And he needs a good teammate — someone he’s very comfortable with.”
Cardenas dismisses assertions by political analysts that some of the potential running mates who made his short list might be considered too “boring” for the job.
“None of those people are boring. That’s an unfair assessment. They’ve all been exciting enough to win public office on their own right, and so I would suggest that they’ve all done well, and you can check the box for excitement,” he insisted. “So I don’t think he needs to pull a rabbit out of the hat or make a splash . . . He just needs to hone in — and within a great list like some of the folks we mentioned — pick one that he is most comfortable with.”
While acknowledging that Romney’s conservative credentials have been called into question throughout the contentious nomination battle — most notably by Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — Cardenas insisted that Romney’s nomination should not be taken as a sign that the GOP is moving to the center ideologically.
“No not at all,” he countered. “As a matter of fact in 2008, if you remember, Mitt was supposed to be the candidate to the right when John McCain and Rudy Giuliani seemed to be the leaders in the polling. And so he’s gone from being the leader on the right in ‘08 to a perceived center/right leader. And smartly, some of the other candidates took the mantel and drove home the message that they’re more conservative than Mitt.”
But the campaign rhetoric used by his opponents is not necessarily a fair portrayal of Romney’s politics. “If you look at Mitt’s website. If you listen to his speeches, my sense is that it’s always been a conservative message,” said Cardenas. “How it’s being played out in the primary maybe has had a different tone at times, but that’s one of the good news about the primary being over.”
He believes that conservatives are already coalescing around Romney’s campaign to defeat President Barack Obama in the fall.
“The numbers I’ve seen — the polling numbers — indicate that a larger percentage of Republicans are now fully in support of Mitt Romney than the percentage of Democrats were fully in support of President Obama,” according to Cardenas. “Obviously, we need the leadership to do the same.”
Cardenas added that Romney is “methodically getting there,” making progress by meeting with small groups of conservative leaders. “By and large he’s making good progress. And he’ll continue to do that. But that’s a lot of good hard work and good results so far in a short period of time,” Cardenas explained.
While President Obama has come under fire for his unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Tuesday, Cardenas acknowledged that the president needs a “good dosage of humility” for exploiting the work of the Navy SEALs in killing Osama bin Laden for political gain.
“I think most Americans will think that you don’t exploit something like this,” said Cardenas. “You know commanders in chief are supposed to give the credit to the folks who got the job done — in this case those brave Navy SEALs and supporting cast that risked their lives to make this happen.”
In contrast, he said that Republicans highlighted the way in which President George W. Bush handled the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington during the 2004 convention, but Bush did not do so directly.
“You know it’s fine for a party to highlight the accomplishments of its commander in chief. You’ve got to do it,” he said. “The commander in chief himself — in his campaign — needs to be more humble, needs to give credit where credit is due, and you know, look it’s a matter of taste — maybe not a right or a wrong, but I just don’t think the commander in chief should be that arrogant to praise himself.”
In addition to the presidential race, the ACU is also focused on a number of House and Senate contests, including the Indiana Republican senatorial primary that pits incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar against State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, whom ACU has endorsed.
“Obviously our main goal is to win in the general election but we thought it was important for the party to be coming up with true conservative candidates for the general election, and that’s why we’ve taken the steps of taking positions on some of these primary races,” observed Cardenas, noting that ACU also supports Texas Republican candidate Ted Cruz in his bid for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, as well as Wendy Long, who is hoping to oppose incumbent Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in New York.
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