Is Mitt Romney a thin-skinned candidate who dislikes being challenged on his record? That’s the impression left by Bret Baier, the Fox News Channel anchor who interviewed Romney this week about Romney’s complaints about the exchange.
Baier showed up on Bill O’ Reilly's show on Fox on Wednesday night to say that Romney had, when the interview was over, groused about Baier’s “overly aggressive” tone, which he said was "uncalled for," and that he was particularly unhappy about being quizzed yet again about the healthcare plan he helped enact in Massachusetts.
Republican presidential candidates generally have viewed Fox News as a comfortable landing spot, particularly its late-night news programs, but Baier has developed a reputation for being a little tougher on the field than some of his colleagues. His work during a Fox News Republican debate in September earned him wide praise.
Baier’s comments were first reported by the website The Right Scoop. But they were quickly seized upon by two of Romney’s fiercest critics, the Democratic National Committee and GOP rival Jon Huntsman.
Romney has appeared less frequently on television than most of his competitors. He hasn't had to. But as he has slowly wended his way toward the GOP nomination, he’s now become the leading target, which has forced him to engage more frequently. The DNC launched a campaign this week aimed at portraying Romney as an unprincipled flip-flopper -- and Romney seemingly was dismayed to hear this line of attack come from Fox News’ Baier on Tuesday.
“Your critics charge you make decisions based on political expediency and not core conviction. You have been on both sides of some issues and there’s videotape of you going back years speaking about different issues, climate change, abortion, immigration, gay rights," Baier said. "How can voters trust what they hear from you today is what you will believe if you win the White House?"
"Well, Bret, your list is just not accurate. So one, we’re going to have to be better informed about my views on issues,” Romney responded, conceding only that his views on abortion rights had shifted over the years.
Later, when Baier brought up healthcare, Romney clearly was displeased.
“Bret, I don't know how many hundred times I've said this too. This is an unusual interview. All right, let's do it again,” he said.
In many ways, of course, the presidential campaign is just getting started. The Iowa caucuses are almost a month away, with New Hampshire right behind, meaning the truly viable candidates are just stepping into the boiler room now. And Romney will be asked about his record and his perceived shifts on a variety of issues ad nauseum.
Baier said as much to O’Reilly on Wednesday night.
“He’s under attack. If you look at any analyst, he’ll say his biggest vulnerability, is what he said back then and what he’s saying now, and I was giving him the opportunity to address that head on,” Baier said. “I thought the questions were fair.”
While Romney has a carefully cultivated image as a cool, technocratic CEO-style candidate, he’s shown flashes of irritation in the campaign when pushed. He had a heated exchange with a liberal heckler at the Iowa State Fair in August. And of course there was his blowup with Rick Perry in a debate in October, in which Romney laid his hand on Perry, kept repeating “let me finish” and at one point complained to the debate’s moderator.
Romney’s supporters argue moments like those help Romney, that they show his passionate, human side—and that he won’t let himself be cowed. But while Romney’s campaign is running him as a front-runner—engaging President Obama more than the other GOP candidates—he can’t afford to appear so above the fray that he can’t be bothered to be brought to earth by difficult questions about his political past. They’re only going to get tougher—as O’Reilly, no friend of the Democrats, himself noted Wednesday.
“He’s got to get more of a sense of humor about this thing,” O’Reilly said of Romney, “because it’s not going to stop.”
Here's the Jon Huntsman spot on the Romney-Fox interview:Here's Romney and Perry battling at a debate in October:Here's Romney at the Iowa State Fair: