Hours after Mitt Romney was booed at the annual meeting of the NAACP, the civil rights group's leader lashed out at the Republican presidential hopeful, saying "showing up is half the battle."
"This was his opportunity to change the game, but instead he played the game," NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous said in an interview Wednesday night with CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report.” "And that part I think leaves people feeling sort of disappointed."
He acknowledged the Republican Party doesn't have a perfect record on race relations, but pledged to work with black leaders to put the country back to work.
"I am going to eliminate every nonessential, expensive program that I can find — and that includes Obamacare," Romney said, drawing the first boos, which lasted for 15 seconds.
Jealous expressed disappointment with Romney's message.
"He could have come there, and in that 5 percent of his speech where he said he would repeal Obamacare, he could have talked about, for instance, how the civil rights community and governors in his party have found common ground on criminal justice reform and built a bridge," Jealous said.
"He could have come there, talked about something new, built a bridge. Instead he seemed to send a signal to his base," he said, "and that sent a signal to folks in the room and in the communities they represent ... that he really wasn't trying to talk to them, that he was trying to talk to somebody else."
Asked about Romney's message that Romney — and not Obama — could do more to ease black unemployment through free market policies, Jealous replied: "He really didn't get into what the new ideas were. And when you simply say things like 'deregulation,' that scares people."
He added: "With the banks and the financial crisis, people felt like perhaps there wasn't proper regulation in place, and so you've got to come and say, you know, look, this is my general plan for the country."
After his speech, Romney told Fox News he had expected some negative reaction. "I am going to give the same message to the NAACP that I give across the country, which is that Obamacare is killing jobs," he said.