Chris Chocola, president of the influential free-enterprise and anti-tax group the Club for Growth, called GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney “a mixed bag” in a sign of the remaining challenges the party standard-bearer faces in energizing conservative Republicans.
Mr. Chocola, a former member of Congress, spoke Thursday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters. When asked what his group’s expectations were for a potential Romney presidency, Chocola said, “our expectations are uncertainty.”
He added: “That is the knock against Romney…. You don’t really know how he will serve.… There is always a question because of how he has served in the past, gives you some uncertainty as how he will serve in the future.”
"He has the potential to exceed expectations," Chocola said. "But it is a mixed bag, and that is his problem.... People really don't know."
The Club for Growth focuses its attention on backing what it considers the most conservative electable candidates in House and Senate races. Sometimes it targets Republican incumbents the group finds insufficiently in line with its anti-tax, free-trade views. “Our first focus is open, safe Republican seats. Our second focus is incumbents behaving badly,” Chocola said.
The Club played a key role in the defeat of Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett in 2010 as well as helping fund the successful candidacy of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio that year. In the current election cycle, the Club’s financial backing played a key role in the come-from-behind victory of Senate candidate Ted Cruz in the Texas Republican primary.
Despite reservations about Romney, Chocola made clear that he prefers the former Massachusetts governor to President Obama. Romney “has a mixed record when it comes to our issues. We didn’t endorse him in the primary. He is our only choice … now so we are not going to criticize him. We are going to hope that he exceeds our expectations," he said.
Chocola praised Romney’s spending record while he was governor of Massachusetts as “pretty good.” Annual increases were in the 2.1 to 2.2. percent range, he said. But he was critical of the governor’s tough stance on trade with China, where Romney has called for the US to brand China a currency manipulator.
“Romney and Obama had their dueling 'bash China' sessions,” Chocola said. “When you start to threaten a trade war with China, when you start to pander politically on trade issues, you are hurting the economy, you are not helping it…. We think that both of them are guilty of political pandering to the detriment of economic growth.”
The Club for Growth president ran CTB International, a successful agricultural equipment manufacturing firm, before he was elected to Congress in 2002. The company, which his grandfather founded, was sold to billionaire Warren Buffett in 2002. Chocola argued that business executives who go into politics, like Romney, often have trouble adjusting.
“In politics, 90 percent of what you do is look like you are doing something, 10 percent is actually doing something. In business 90 percent of what you do is doing something and the other 10 percent may be trying [to] … convince people you are great. And so business people have a very hard time understanding why results just don’t speak for themselves and 'Why do I have to tell people how great I am?' ” he said.