By STEVE PEOPLES
WOLFEBORO, N.H. (AP) -- Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney jumped into the debate over the GOP's future Tuesday night, warning congressional Republicans against forcing a government shutdown in their quest to stop President Barack Obama's signature health care law.
Romney addressed more than 200 donors on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee at a fundraiser for the New Hampshire Republican Party, staged just four miles from the vacation home where he has spent much of the summer with his family. The event was closed to the media, but his office released his prepared remarks.
Romney, 66, warned congressional Republicans against letting emotions drive their decisions.
"I badly want Obamacare to go away, and stripping it of funds has appeal. But we need to exercise great care about any talk of shutting down government," Romney said in the first speech of its kind since his November election loss to Obama. "What would come next when soldiers aren't paid, when seniors fear for their Medicare and Social Security, and when the FBI is off duty?"
He continued: "I'm afraid that in the final analysis, Obamacare would get its funding, our party would suffer in the next elections, and the people of the nation would not be happy. I think there are better ways to remove Obamacare."
Romney did not criticize anyone by name, but he dismissed the very strategy employed by some of his party's biggest names -- potential 2016 presidential candidates among them. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah are urging Republicans to swear off voting for any year-end spending bill that includes money for the president's health care law. Parts of the federal government would shut down on Oct. 1 if Congress doesn't approve a short-term funding bill before then.
Several Republicans on Capitol Hill have attacked the plan to strip health care funding from the spending bill in unusually harsh language, although Romney has been silent on this -- and virtually every other public debate -- for much of the last nine months.
It's unclear what role the former Massachusetts governor hopes to play for the GOP. He has hinted at a desire to remain an active voice on major policy debates, and he maintains ties to a powerful national fundraising operation.
His presence at the New Hampshire GOP fundraiser Tuesday night helped raise tens of thousands of dollars, according to organizers, which is considered a large haul for a state party so long before the next election. Donors paid between $100 and $1,500 and traveled from as far as California to attend the event, which was held at a lakeside mansion used in 2007 as a vacation home for French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
In his speech, Romney acknowledged that some Republicans may not care for his perspective given his recent loss.
"I'm probably not the first person you'd ask for advice," he said. "But because we all learn from our mistakes, I may have a thought or two of value."
He called on Republicans to "stay smart," in part, by backing candidates who can win. And as the pool of potential candidates for the 2016 presidential contest begins to grow, Romney suggested that most are not electable.
"My guess is that every one of the contenders would be better than whoever the Democrats put up," he said. "But there will only be one or perhaps two who actually could win the election in November."