“Mitt Romney met quietly with a small group of conservative leaders in Washington on Thursday in an effort to reassure Republicans who remain skeptical about his candidacy, CNN has learned…

“‘He knows exactly how people are reacting and feeling right now,’ the participant said of the Romney meeting. ‘He is going to have to give a big speech tomorrow and I think he just wanted to make some people feel comfortable. It’s just an opportunity to talk to some friends.'”

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“‘There is not exactly Romney-mania right now,’ Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl told POLITICO, adding that the former Massachusetts governor “absolutely” must shore up the weaknesses with the GOP base that were on such vivid display Tuesday…

“‘People instinctively can sense how fervently you believe in things by the way you talk about them, by what you choose to talk about,’ Kyl said. ‘And I think to some extent, Mitt can do a little better job to responding to that political fact. Second, he has stepped on his message so many times.’

“Kyl added: “Every time he defends his health care action in Massachusetts and every time he says something like [indexing minimum wage], conservatives wonder whether he has the instincts to usually take the conservative position on issues. You don’t just want a transactional president, you want one with a very fixed view of what’s right or wrong, what the good solutions to problems are — and while you always have to end up making accommodations to get things done in politics, you at least instinctively know what direction you ought to be headed in. I think conservatives need to be persuaded that Mitt has a pretty firm fix on where the conservative lodestar is.'”

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“The Romney campaign is better at dismantling than mantling. They’re better at taking opponents apart than building a compelling candidate of their own. They do not seem capable of deepening his meaning, making his stands and statements more textured and interesting. He comes across like a businessman who studied the data and came up with the formula that will make the deal.

“A particular problem is that he betrays little indignation at any of our problems and their causes. He’s always sunny, pleasant, untouched by anger. This leaves people thinking, ‘Excuse me, but we are in crisis. Financially and culturally we fear our country is going down the drain. This guy doesn’t seem to be feeling it. So why’s he running? Maybe he thinks it’s his personal destiny to be president. But if the animating passion of his candidacy is about him, not us, who needs him?’

“Mitt Romney’s aides are making the classic mistake of thinking the voters want maturity, serenity and a jolly spirit. What they want is a man who knows what time it is, who has a passion to reform our country, and who yet holds these qualities within a temperament that is mature, serene and jolly.”

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“Republicans are especially suspicious of the other-directed type. They feel as if they are battling against the headwinds of a hostile elite culture. They want their candidate to have built his temple upon a rock, to possess an unshakeable set of convictions, to be impervious to the opposition of Washington’s entrenched interests. They also believe that the next president is going to have to make some brutally difficult decisions in order to reduce the debt. This is not a task for someone who is perpetually adjusting to market signals.

“If Romney is to thrive, he really needs to go on an integrity tour. He needs to show how his outer pronouncements flow directly from his inner core. He needs to trust that voters will take him as he really is. He needs to tell his own complicated individual story and stop reducing himself to the outsider/businessman advertising cliché. He needs to tell us what about his character is more fundamental than his national park patriotism and his skill at corporate restructuring.”

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“Those who have worked with Romney cite his flexibility as a virtue. ‘He’s spent his entire life in a world that’s constantly changing, where he has had to modify his thinking in order to address problems,’ says Scott Meadow, his friend and former business partner. ‘I think it demonstrates something that I’ve always seen: an ability to adapt and change, and a willingness to accept that his thinking evolves. And not being afraid to change his mind and go in a different direction because that seems like the appropriate thing to do.’ Meadow says Romney is ‘loyal to success,’ whatever form it takes. ‘He’s flexible because he’s had to be,’ Meadow says.

“Which is why Romney’s book, his speeches, his debate performances, and his interviews are not necessarily indicators of who Romney is and what he believes. Aside from being rhetorically pro-business, Romney appears to have no consistent ideological outlook. The best way to understand his campaign is as a top-of-the-line consultant’s report on the contemporary GOP…

“In this, his second primary campaign, the problem that consultant Romney has chosen to solve is not the Medicare crisis, the federal debt burden, or sluggish economic growth. Instead, it is how to appeal to a Republican Party torn between Tea Party activists and Beltway moderates. Romney’s insistence on having it both ways at every opportunity reveals not just his own incoherence but a party with irreconcilable goals: a leaner federal government that cuts no major programs, a balanced budget with a beefed-up defense budget, entitlements that are reformed and reduced but never cut or changed. What does Mitt Romney believe? Like the PDF says, he believes in America—and anything America wants him to believe.”

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“[A] bold reform agenda is our moral obligation. We have an obligation to provide the American people with a clear path that gets our country back on track.

“If we make the case effectively and win this November, then we will have the moral authority to enact the kind of fundamental reforms America has not seen since Ronald Reagan’s first year.

“That’s the moral case for going bold. But there is also a strong political case for going bold.

“The times call for leaders who understand the depth of the problems we face, and who offer far‐reaching reforms equal to the challenges. In 1980, Ronald Reagan offered supply‐side economics at home and a rollback of Soviet Communism abroad.

“The challenges this time? They’re different. But the moment calls for the same kind of boldness.

“Everybody knows this is politically risky territory. Republicans have their battle scars on entitlement reform. That’s why some argue that we should downplay bold agendas and simply wage a campaign focused solely on the President and his party.

“I firmly disagree. Boldness and clarity offer the greatest opportunity to create a winning coalition. We will not only win the next election – we have a unique opportunity to sweep and remake the political landscape.”

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“In yet another sign of the distrust Mitt Romney faces from Republican voters, he found himself promising Fox News’ Sean Hannity he will prove his ideological purity in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference he is set to deliver on Friday.

“‘I have a record of being a strong conservative on the issues that matter, and I’ll point that out to my friends at CPAC,’ Romney said Thursday night on Fox News, pointing to his efforts to fight Massachusetts mandates that forced some religious employers to provide access to contraception in their health care plans as well as attempts to stop the legalization of gay marriage in the state.”