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Romney: “You’re Not Going To Cram The Old Rules Into The New Game.”

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That’s Mitt Romney on the attempt by pundits to define what constitutes a win for him, in an interview I conducted for today’s program. (Transcript here. Audio here later.)

Romney is right to reject the pundits’ analysis of what he has to do and when. The race is fundamentally different than when it began, and it is only about to enter its “Republican only” contests (though Romney won the first of those in Wyoming.) His comments on this subject:

I know there are a lot of people that would like to force other people out of the race. But simply, that’s a decision I get to make. No one’s going to make that for me. And I’m planning on winning in Michigan. But you know, I’m going to see how things develop down the road here. There’s no hurry for me to get out. I have the funds necessary to go the entire distance. I’ve got supporters who certainly want me to go the entire distance. And you know, this is a very fluid race. There was a while there we thought that Rudy was sort of like the only competitor out there, and in a two-man race, we all thought that. And I had to win the early ones to be able to go up against Rudy in the late ones. But now, gosh, we could have several people with delegates going into Super Duper Tuesday, and have a lot of us come out on the other side of Super Tuesday with a lot of delegates. So you know, it’s a different race than people are used to, and you’re not going to cram the old rules into the new game.

We spoke about the economy in Michigan, the car business and China as well as Iran and a number of other subjects. Here’s Romney’s take on his two top rivals:

HH: Now after the debate was over, both Senator McCain and you went on Hannity & Colmes, and I quite distinctly heard Senator McCain say the path to citizenship is still part of his immigration plan. In fact, I don’t think he’s changed his plan at all, just the sequencing of it. I don’t know if you heard the same thing. Did you?

MR: Oh, yes, he’s exactly where he was before. And by saying that now he’s learned from the American people, and that he’s going to secure the border first, that’s all fine and well. But he still intends to provide amnesty to illegal aliens. You know, he says well, those have committed crimes will be ushered out of the country. Fine. I don’t know what that number is. He uses a number of two million. But that means that ten million or perhaps fifteen million or twenty million would be allowed, under his plan, to remain in this country. And that is a form of amnesty, and it’s something which I strongly disagree with. I welcome legal immigration, but I do not think we should say to people who come here illegally that they have a right to stay here for the rest of their lives.

HH: Now Governor, does that issue matter in Michigan in the way that it matters, say, in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico?

MR: You know, I think in Michigan, the biggest issue overwhelmingly is the economy, and how to rebuild a struggling economy. And while immigration matters, it pales compared to the economy. Likewise taxation. That pales, compared to the economy. And so it’s a different mix as you come to Michigan.

HH: Now I’m told that Governor Huckabee’s speech was very poorly received at the clug in Detroit this morning, because it’s that populist stuff. Is Michigan sophisticated about what has to happen? After all, they turned down Mark DeVos, who really brought the free market message two years ago, Governor.

MR: Well, you know, I did not hear about Governor Huckabee’s speech, but I must admit this populist attack on wage payers is not something which I think is going to sell in a Republican primary, and hopefully won’t sell in the nation. I guess he may be channeling John Edwards. We have to realize that if you want to have good jobs, you’ve got to have strong employers. And probably the best news anybody can hear in this country is that corporate profits are rising. That means that companies will be expanding, it means they’ll be hiring more people, it means homes will be selling for higher prices, because people will be moving to take good jobs. You want to see our economic sector thriving, and I’m not just talking about big companies, I’m talking about little companies, pizza shops and taxi companies, hair salons. Everybody does well together, and this attack on employers is something which I think has no place in the Republican Party, let alone America.

The race is just getting started, and it is not going to be predictable. Of the three most recent debates, McCain lost Saturday night with his temperament; Romney overwhelmingly won Sunday and Thompson last night. There are lots of swings ahead.

Michigan matters because it is a big state with a lot of dynamics at play, and the competition there is intense, but it remains a state wherein any voter can cast a ballot, and the GOP base will eventually select the nominee, not independents. Michigan is a must win for McCain because of his fabled appeal to the independents. Romney need only do well with the GOP voters. Romney’s base vote refuses to be shaken by the chattering class and will be more and more in evidence as the campaign moves west after Florida.

There are inherent weaknesses in the McCain campaign which cannot be papered-over much longer with independent votes. I discuss those problems in my new column, Rick Santorum discussed them on my show Wednesday, and Mark Levin covers them in his post today. Romney is smart to target the complex economic issues facing Michigan and the country, and to return again and again to the idea that D.C. insiders cannot bring change to D.C.

As Senator Santorum summarized Wednesday: “John McCain will not get the base of the Republican Party.” From my post on the interview with Santorum:

I will leave this post at the top today because conservatives have to know that Senator McCain is the anti-conservative, and Rick Santorum’s warning should be read by every Republican in every state yet to vote, and not just for the discussion of the McCain-Kennedy immigration fiasco highlighted below. I hope one or more of the FoxNews panel uses many of Senator Santorum’s quotes in tonight’s debate to put the issue of John McCain’s anti-conservatism center on the table.

When Santorum says that “we’re looking at the media trying to make Barack Obama the president, and make John McCain the shill for him,” and “I think they know that John McCain can’t win this election,” he is exactly on target.

When Santorum says of McCain that on “the environment, he’s absolutely terrible. He buys into the complete left wing environmentalist movement in this country,” he is speaking from Republican Caucus experience.

When Santorum says that about the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill that “John McCain was the guy who was working with Ted Kennedy to drive it down our throats, and lectured us repeatedly about how xenophobic we were, lectured us, us being the Republican conference, about how wrong we were on this, how we were on the wrong side of history,” he was there, heard those lectures.

When Michael Gerson says that “I think the main policy problem John McCain has is that I don’t think there’s much evidence that he’s a convert on the pro-growth economic philosophy,” and adds that“[w]hen he opposed the Bush tax cuts, it wasn’t just that there was not offsets, and not sufficient cuts,” remember that Gerson was at George W. Bush’s side through those battles. Gerson remembers that McCain “used our class warfare arguments, ‘It’ll only benefit the top 1%’ and other things,” and concluded “I don’t think he buys the kind of supply side ideology that has really determined American economic policies the last 25 years, particularly under both Reagan and the current President Bush.”

When you consider McCain, keep in mind Santorum’s warning:

John McCain looks at things through the eyes, on these kind of domestic policy issues, looks at it through the eyes of the New York Times’ editorial board, and accepts that predisposition that if you are not, if you stand for conservative principles, there’s some genetic defect.


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