Was Mitt Romney hoping to be booed during NAACP speech?

Mitt Romney expected and, his critics say, even wanted to be booed at the NAACP convention, as a signal to voters that he's willing to face an audience not likely to agree with him – and not pander.

Evan Vucci/AP
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pauses during a speech to the NAACP annual convention on July 11 in Houston.

Was Mitt Romney hoping to get booed when he spoke Wednesday at the NAACP’s annual convention in Houston?

That’s what some liberals are charging. They say that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee agreed to appear before an African-American audience precisely because he knew he’d get a negative reaction.

He’s not likely to receive many black votes in any case, and boos would allow him to look principled in the face of opposition and bolster his image with independents and conservatives. Or so the theory goes.

“I think it was a calculated move on his part,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California in an interview with Bloomberg TV.

Mr. Romney’s often been accused of flip-flopping on issues according to the political demands of the moment. By standing up to the NAACP, he might be able to soften this image and perhaps round out his character a bit, according to some Democrats.

“It seemed like Mitt Romney wanted to get booed at the NAACP this morning,” said MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow on Wednesday. “He wanted to wear that around his neck like a badge of courage.”

Romney himself has added some fuel to this fire by saying he “expected” the jeers, which occurred at a point in his speech when he promised to repeal Obamacare. At a fundraiser in Montana on Wednesday night, the former Massachusetts governor referred to the speech as evidence of his political consistency.

“I don’t give different speeches to difference audiences ... I want people to know what I stand for, and if I don’t stand for what they want, go vote for someone else, that’s just fine,” said Romney, according to an account of the evening in Politico.

Conservatives, meanwhile, have roundly praised the speech and said that indeed it could bolster Romney among the GOP’s right wing and perhaps independent voters.

They lauded Romney for the very things which liberals derided: He didn’t tailor his words to the audience.

“There’s no question Mitt Romney is a brave guy for going to the NAACP convention,” said Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly. “He knew he would not be received well there. But he also knows that if he wins the election he will be president to all Americans so his appearance is a positive in that regard.”

Mr. O’Reilly and others said that the appearance underscored Romney’s willingness to reach across the aisle – a nod to inclusiveness that could appeal to white independent voters, particularly women.

They noted that Romney also got some positive reaction from the crowd, particularly when he talked about his support for school choice initiatives and his opposition to gay marriage.

“Very calculated, very well played,” concluded Jennifer Rubin on her conservative Right Turn Washington Post blog.

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