Who you walk with says a lot about who you are – and this is especially true of candidates for public office and others seeking positions of high public trust.
It is also one of Mitt Romney’s most easily cured problems in closing the deal to bring conservatives fully behind his candidacy for President.
During the primary season, it was no secret that Governor Romney was not the first choice of grassroots conservatives and Tea Partiers.
Part of the reason conservatives had difficulty buying into the Romney candidacy was they looked at the Governor’s team and saw an awful lot of the same people they had clashed with or been ill-used by during the administration of President George W. Bush.
Or they saw hired guns from the establishment Republican political consulting world whose advice is always to hew to the middle of the road and run a content-free campaign bereft of any commitment to the small government constitutional conservative agenda.
This is almost the exact opposite of the image Ronald Reagan conveyed during his runs for the presidency.
Reagan largely eschewed surrounding himself with Washington political insiders and notables from the Republican establishment.
His confidants and those you saw with him on the campaign trail were the California entrepreneurs of his “kitchen cabinet” and the outsiders of the burgeoning conservative movement – as well as conservative elected officials, such as Nevada Senator Paul Laxalt and the young conservative backbenchers in Congress who bucked the establishment to support Reagan.
These conservative outsiders, such as Ed Meese, Lynn Nofziger, Dick Allen, Marty Anderson and Judge William P. Clark, Jr. were not merely political window dressing or junior staffers, but serious people who were there day-to-day to advise President Reagan and would later help him run the government.
The typical Washington establishment powerbrokers were simply not part of the circle that ended-up in a front page photo of Ronald Reagan or found their way into his kitchen cabinet.
Governor Romney, on the other hand, can’t seem to appear in public unless he is surrounded by “his people” and without an establishment Republican figure Velcroed to his side.
Perhaps this is due to Mitt Romney’s acknowledged love of “metrics” and background as a CEO, in which having “his people” or experts close at hand to crunch numbers and handle details speeds decision-making.
The establishment Republicans create a bigger problem. Although they are loathe to admit it, the Tea Party rebellion was as much about them, and the Republican establishment’s failure to deliver conservative government during the Bush years, as it is about President Obama and Obamacare.
The problem this creates for Governor Romney is that in every photo and TV segment it ends-up putting him squarely in the middle of a big crowd of people who grassroots conservatives and Tea Partiers see as, if not the enemy, at least a major part of the problem.
As things stand now, surrounded as he is by the same establishment Republicans whose failures sparked the Tea Party rebellion, Governor Romney is squandering his credibility as an outside-the-Beltway business leader and state elected official not tied to the old ways of Washington.
Conservatives are not looking for window dressing, or something symbolic, like inviting the occasional conservative leader or evangelical pastor onto the platform at a Romney campaign rally. We are looking for Governor Romney to make serious conservatives a serious part of his campaign and to show us he intends to govern as a conservative by bringing them into his administration.
Who you walk with says a lot about who you are.
If Governor Romney wants grassroots conservatives and Tea Partiers fully behind his campaign, the first and easiest step he should take is to make serious conservatives part of his campaign and show he means to govern as a conservative by walking with them every day.