Tone down criticism, Romney rivals told
Greer - Conservatives urged Mitt Romney's rivals to tone down criticism of the Republican front-runner, fearing they will undermine the party's pro-business identity and damage its chances of capturing the White House from President Barack Obama.
Under fire, Romney rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry backed off on Thursday from directly attacking Romney's tenure at the helm of the venture capital firm Bain Capital. They had been painting Romney as a job-killer.
Gingrich and Perry have been leading the charge against Romney ahead of the crucial January 21 South Carolina primary. Romney won the first two nominating contests, in Iowa and New Hampshire, and South Carolina may be his opponents last chance to stop his momentum and prevent him from becoming the Republican presidential nominee.
Some conservatives are wary of Romney because of his shifting positions on abortion and other issues and his sponsorship, when he was Massachusetts governor, of a health care plan similar to one pursued by Obama that is widely disliked by Republicans.
Still, even conservatives and other Republicans with long histories of disagreeing with Romney have argued that the attacks on his business record weakened the party's chief argument against Obama, that federal intrusion has stymied the economy's recovery.
Former Arkansas Govenor Mike Huckabee, who ran against Romney four years ago, wrote in an online letter: "It's surprising to see so many Republicans embrace that left-wing argument against capitalism." Another 2008 foe, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, told Fox News Channel: "I'm shocked at what they are doing. I'm going to say it's ignorant. Dumb. It's building something we should be fighting ignorance of the American economic system."
The US Chamber of Commerce entered the debate on Thursday, saying it was "foolish" for Republicans to bash Romney for his work as a venture capitalist.
Although the latest comments were more a rejection of attacks on Romney's record at Bain than an endorsement of Romney as a candidate, they signalled a warming toward Romney by a cross-section of Republicans as the party struggles to settle on a more conservative alternative.
They also signalled that attempts by Gingrich, a former House speaker, and Perry, the Texas governor, to cast Romney as a cold-blooded predator in the business world appeared to be backfiring badly - and playing right into the Romney campaign's hands.