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By Seema Mehta and Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

CORONADO, Calif. — Mitt Romney’s announcement that he is pondering a third run for the White House with a focus on fighting income inequality and poverty presents challenges that would appear to be particularly difficult for Romney to surmount.

After running in 2008 on his record as Massachusetts governor, and in 2012 as an economic turnaround specialist, Romney will have to convince voters that his new emphasis is heartfelt. That would be a stretch for any candidate, not the least a man already skewered for flip-flopping and viewed by many voters as caring little about the poor.

These perceptions were hardened by Romney’s own words as he sought the Republican nomination in 2012. At one point, he appeared to dismiss concerns about the “very poor” because, he said, they were aided by a safety net that could be repaired if necessary. He was caught on video telling donors that 47 percent of voters were unavailable to him because they were dependent on the government. After the election, he blamed President Barack Obama giving “gifts” to black, Latino and young voters for his loss.

Polls taken during the campaign consistently showed that voters believed Romney’s policies would benefit the wealthy, not those lower on the economic scale, and he was assaulted by a fusillade of Democratic ads accusing him of boosting businesses without concern for workers.

Even some Romney aides found it difficult to explain how his new focus on poverty — one of three principles Romney laid out to Republican leaders Friday night in San Diego, without adding specific policy details — would mesh with his previous messages.

“I don’t understand the angle that he’s taking,” said one Romney loyalist, who, like many Republicans interviewed at a party gathering in Coronado last week, would not discuss Romney’s strategy by name in order to preserve relations. “I don’t understand why it’s one of his top three talking points. I’m still trying to sort that out on my own.”

Advisers to Romney said that if he runs, he plans to counter criticism of his approach by emphasizing his years as a leader in his Mormon church — work that Romney highlighted Friday. He cited his wife, Ann, as testifying to his intent.

“She knows my heart in a way that few people do,” Romney said. “She’s seen me not just as a business guy and a political guy, but for over ten years, as you know, I served as a pastor for a congregation and for groups of congregations…. She’s seen me work with folks that are looking for better work and jobs and providing care for the sick and the elderly.”

Romney is known as a man of deep faith, and one who has donated generously to his church, but public emphasis on his religious background is new. In 2008, concerned about some evangelical voters’ hostility to Mormonism, Romney rarely spoke of it.

Four years later, he was somewhat more open, allowing reporters to accompany him to services, but he did not emphasize his faith. One of the most compelling moments of the 2012 GOP convention featured testimonials from people who Romney helped when he was a Mormon stake leader in Massachusetts. But their appearance was scheduled during a part of the gathering that was not televised.

One Romney adviser said his reluctance to tout his good works was driven by humility — but acceding to that instinct was a political mistake.

Besides having to sell voters on his new approach, Romney faces the additional job of convincing Republicans anxious for a fresh face that the best visage is that of a political veteran and two-time presidential loser.

In more than two dozen interviews with party leaders in Coronado and Republicans across the country, little organic groundswell for Romney appeared to be developing.

Many said they liked him and believed that the nation would be better off had he been elected president; many were grateful for the role he played as party booster as recently as the November election. Others declined to criticize Romney but said that if he runs, he would compete without any particular advantage against a score of other candidates already vying for support.

“I think Gov. Romney has built up lot of goodwill and earned lot of respect from Republicans across the country,” said New Hampshire state GOP chairman Jennifer Horn. But “whether it’s Gov. Romney or anyone else, it’s a new cycle and they’re going to have to come back and earn every vote, one by one.”

Others, from conservative media pundits to longtime GOP strategists and leaders, were openly caustic.

“I certainly hope that Romney is not our nominee again,” said Morton Blackwell, a Republican National Committee member from Virginia since 1988. He and his wife contributed $30,000 to efforts backing Romney’s 2012 bid. “Look, having contributed more money to him than any other candidate in my lifetime, I think I have the right to say we’ve given him his shot.”

Henry Barbour, an influential member of the committee from Mississippi, said Romney’s 2012 campaign was both “a pro and a con” for 2016, sharpening his political skills but also displaying his weaknesses.

“Should he decide to run, he’s going to be competitive and anyone who takes him lightly is a fool. But everybody starts on the go, and that’s probably a hard thing if you’ve already been the nominee,” Barbour said. “2012 in many ways for him is his hurdle.”

For some, potential competition from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush complicates loyalty to Romney.

Gordon Sondland, a hotelier and real-estate investor, was a member of Romney’s 2012 national finance committee; he co-chaired multiple Southern California fundraising events for Bush last week. He said he and other former supporters took Romney at his word when he said he would not run again.

“Many of us that have other relationships with other candidates have begun coalescing behind and supporting them. Once we do that, we dance with the one that brung us,” Sondland said.

Todd Cranney, who served as Romney’s deputy political director in 2012 and hopes he runs in 2016, said Romney’s decision would come down to the once and potentially future candidate’s assessment of the circumstances.

“Mitt’s not going to sit around and let someone else make decisions for him. He’s going to decide for himself,” he said.

Several Romney advisers noted that President Ronald Reagan won the White House on his third attempt, but Stuart Spencer, Reagan’s chief campaign strategist, dismissed the comparison to the late president.

Romney “didn’t win over hearts and minds” like Reagan did in his first campaigns, Spencer said. “He was just the opponent of a guy (Republicans) didn’t like, named Obama.”

“I don’t think it is good for the party,” he said of a third Romney run. “They need some new blood and new ideas… He can’t just switch and say, ‘I’m the new Romney’ and get away with it.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr


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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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