Senior aid says Romney is the true "Tea Party" candidate

After taking a moment to digest the startling insight, moderators John Dickerson — of CBS News and Slate Magazine, and Ron Fournier — of the National Journal — asked Kaufman If that would prevent Romney from achieving success in Washington, since many Tea Party members have declared that they have no interest in compromising (see the debt ceiling discussion from a year ago, for example).

"The difference between compromising principals and forging coalitions are two different things," replied Kaufman, reciting the pledges that Romney made — and ultimately kept — when running for governor a decade ago.

"Isn't that pie in the sky thinking?" asked Ron Fournier, mentioning how the country is much more polarized than when Romney served as governor.

Kaufman said similar concerns were expressed regarding the role of the presidency in 1980, before Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter. He said Reagan answered those questions definitively.

Kaufman admitted that Romney is a "not a gregarious guy on a personal level," saying that his relationships are based on intellectual honesty.

Although the conversation was relaxed befitting the 9:30 a.m. starting time, Kaufman did object to Fournier's questions regarding recent ads that criticize President Obama for ending a provision requiring welfare recipients to work.

The ads inflamed liberals, and fact checking groups have ruled them false.

Fournier asked Kaufman if he thought the ad played 'the race card'?

Kaufman strongly pushed back on the charge, saying he was surprised by the idea, and that the ads have nothing to do with racism. But Fournier persisted, saying the campaign must have conducted focus groups that touched on racial issues. Kaufman remained resolute, saying that was never an equation in producing the ad.

Moments later, a microphone was handed to members in the audience for questions. Two men challenged the journalists, saying the federal law states that no waivers can be allowed for the welfare law, regardless of who asks for it (a couple of Republican governors were among the first to make such a request).

These comments led to a longer discussion about the role of reporters to push back against obvious lies, regardless of who makes the charges. Fournier said he felt that way about the Romney welfare-to-work ad, but short of standing up and punching Kaufman, all he could do was say he disagreed with him, and move forward.

Much of the 2011-2012 Republican presidential campaign seemed to consist of Mitt Romney vs. the hottest Tea Party candidate of the moment.

Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum: They all came in and had their moment in the sun before being vanquished by the more established — and better funded — candidate.

So on Tuesday morning, it was a bit of a surprise to hear that the presumptive GOP nominee is actually a Tea Party guy.

The declaration came from Ron Kaufman, a senior adviser and longtime friend of the governor, at a discussion at the Carne Chophouse in Ybor City.

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