Today Romney spoke before a large and applauding audience at the American Conservative Union's CPAC 2012. Careful attention to his speech's underlying themes revealed a core focus on upward economic mobility being the crux of the American Dream. While some speakers focused on societal virtue, foreign policy, and Democrats ruining America, Romney strategically re-weaved many of the same rhetorical phrases used by other CPAC speakers to focus specifically on upward economic mobility. I would argue he did so with good reason.
My research of the Tea Party movement and interviews with dozen of Tea Party leaders across the country have revealed Tea Partiers are most concerned over losing what they like best about America: upward economic mobility. Certainly other issues play a role, but concern that government's response to the 2008 financial crisis would hinder the American Dream is what fundamentally brought libertarian and conservative Tea Partiers together and drove their mobilization. (I've written about this here and here). In speaking to concerns over upward economic mobility and the American Dream, Romney reveals he's done his homework for how to resonate with Tea Party voters.
For instance, he began by talking about how his father was born in Mexico, moved to the U.S. when he was five, and—although he never earned a college degree—went on to own a successful car company and eventually become governor of Michigan. Just one generation later, Mitt Romney attended the country's top business and law schools and then embarked on a very successful private sector career. He spoke about how he turned around failing business, a troubled 2002 Winter Olympics, and a struggling state. He explained that he believes in the American Dream because he's lived the American Dream and understands what makes it possible: founding principles that secure peoples' freedom to "achieve success in their own way, propelling themselves forward." Because of this, Romney said, "one's birth is not prohibitive for one's ability to achieve their dreams."
Theda Skocpol, writing in a recent Washington Post op-ed, agrees with me to an extent that Mitt Romney is angling himself (maybe successfully) to be a Tea Party candidate. Skocpol writes, "Romney has become the stealth tea party candidate, endorsing the essence of the movement while remaining unburdened by its public label." Where Skocpol and I disagree is that the essence is less about immigration fears and more about the American Dream of upward economic mobility.
Although Romney is surely not the "Tea Party Candidate" he appears to be taking conscious measures to connect with Tea Party voters, but discreetly enough to continue resonating with non-Tea Party voters as well.
Source: CNN Exit Polls