VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Appearing alongside televangelist Pat Robertson in front of a loud, flag-waving crowd of about 2,800 here Saturday afternoon, Mitt Romney debuted a revamped stump speech built around the Pledge of Allegiance, patriotism — and God.
After leading the audience in an impromptu Pledge of Allegiance in the middle of his remarks, Romney launched into a riff designed to needle the Democratic Party for initially removing the word "God" from its 2012 platform, and then adding it back in despite protests from many delegates.
"That pledge says 'under God.' I will not take God out of our platform. I will not take God off our coins. And I will not take God out of my heart," Romney declared.
The line drew among the loudest applause from the audience an event that featured plenty of applause lines, and the crowd appeared to respond to it even more enthusiastically than when he later declared, "We did build that" — a reference that has recently been his most successful in rallying conservatives. However, it was unclear what Romney was referring to when he mentioned coins: the Obama administration has not proposed removing "God" from American currency. (Romney did not directly accuse Obama of doing so, and has intermittently criticized what conservatives see as spreading secularism, specifically referencing God's place on coins in 2007.)
He continued to wrap his traditional stump speech rhetoric around lines in the Pledge:
"'One nation indivisible,'" he said. "I will not divide this nation. I will not apologize for America abroad, and I will not apologize for Americans here at home. 'With liberty and justice for all.' With libery, I will not forget that for us to have liberty here, for us to be able to protect ourselves from the most evil around the world, for us to share liberty with our friends around the world, we must have a military second to none."
Since the Republican National Convention, Romney's stump speech has been decidedly less predictable, with each performance including a smattering of new rhetoric apparently designed to fit the crowd and occasion. It's unclear whether Saturday's speech — delivered in a conservative, rural area of southern Virginia — represented a permanent shift in his speech.
But the remarks, which focused heavily on military, patriotism, as well as his "five-step plan" to restore the economy, did include the most new material of any of his recent stump speeches.
Shortly after the speech, Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith issued a statement accusing Romney, for second time in as many days, of extremism.
“It’s disappointing to see Mitt Romney try to throw a Hail Mary by launching extreme and untrue attacks against the President and associating with some of the most strident and divisive voices in the Republican Party, including Rep. Steve King and Pat Robertson," Smith said, referring to a combative Iowa Congressman and to the televangelist. "This isn’t a recipe for making America stronger, it’s a recipe for division and taking us backward.”
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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