Two-time presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he has nothing but love for the Republican Party’s 2016 field — even if the feeling isn’t always mutual.
Romney, the GOP’s 2012 nominee, heaped praise on almost all of his party’s White House contenders during a Tuesday interview on Fox News. And he shrugged off Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) frequent panning of his past candidacies for allegedly embracing a “mushy” and insufficiently conservative ideology.
“One person’s moderate is another person’s conservative [and] is another person’s liberal,” Romney said when asked about Cruz’s comments. “Everyone has their views as to who’s conservative. I believe that the candidates running in the Republican primary are almost without exception conservative.”
Romney said he was actually a fan of Cruz, who on Monday became the first major candidate to officially declare his campaign for the White House.
“He is an extraordinarily gifted orator,” Romney said. “I remember he spoke at the 2012 Republican convention — without notes, got up, and spelled on the audience there. Same as I understand yesterday. He is a person of very sound capability. And I think you’re going to hear a lot from him.”
Romney also weighed in on some of the other likely candidates:
Romney specifically dismissed the idea that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) is insufficiently conservative, as many of his Republican critics have claimed.
“Sure he’s a conservative and his record in Florida proves it,” Romney said. “I like Jeb Bush a lot. I think he’d be a terrific president.”
Behind the scenes, however, Romney reportedly has had a less-than-enthusiastic view of Bush’s potential candidacy.
Some reports have speculated that Romney privately supports Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) for president. Explaining his own decision not to run in 2016, Romney has frequently called for a “new generation” of Republican leaders to represent the party. Rubio, a relatively young Cuban-American who has hired a number of former Romney staffers, could be whom Romney has in mind.
But Romney told Fox News that voters shouldn’t expect a Rubio endorsement from him anytime soon.
“I’m going to be very, very aggressively neutral in this process,” he insisted.
Romney nevertheless expressed his fondness for Rubio’s record of service.
“Marco Rubio’s track record I know a little better than Sen. Cruz’s. Marco and I spent some time together when I was in Florida campaigning,” he said. “He was speaker of the [Florida] House. He was involved with fashioning legislating, putting together budgets, working with then-Gov. Bush. I mean, he has a track record as a legislative leader.”
Romney said he was a big admirer of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) retail campaign skills. Christie is famous for directly confronting constituents — supporters and critics — at town halls and other events.
“Chris Christie, boy, a guy that tells the truth in your face if he disagrees with you,” Romney said.
And Romney said it’s still too early to count Christie out because of his lagging poll numbers.
“You don’t worry too much about polls at this early stage,” he said. “As you know, America loves a comeback and Chris is poised to do that. “
Romney said Republicans should be excited about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) electoral record of success. If Walker launches a campaign for the White House, it will reportedly be his 14th campaign in 25 years, including two tough gubernatorial races and a statewide recall effort in just the last four years.
“Scott Walker I like a lot,” Romney said. “This is a guy who’s been tested three times in four years — gone to the people and been elected three times.”
Unsurprisingly, Romney was much less optimistic about the Democratic field of candidates, which he dismissed as only Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and some less-than-stellar hopefuls hoping to be her vice president. The Republican primary race, he said, will be much more “fun.”
“The fun thing is we’re going to have a lively debate with very different views being expressed by different candidates,” he said. “And then compare that with the Democrats: You look at it now, there’ll be Hillary and a couple other people vying to be her vice president. It won’t be very exciting.”
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