he Republican Party's failed presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, has taken his lumps at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference. But when he emerged from the shadows on Friday to deliver his first speech since election night, he received an enthusiastic reception from a crowd that has heard from plenty of hardline conservatives in recent days. His message: "Learn from my mistakes."
Romney conceded that "as someone who just lost the last election, I'm probably not the best person to chart the course for the next election." But he urged his party to follow the lead of successful blue- and purple-state GOP governors like Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie, who weren't invited to the gathering.
He argued that that even though some GOP governors, like Christie, have gone along with ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion and committed other perceived sins, they're showing by their example how the GOP can make progress toward conservative goals like limited government and fiscal restraint. "Yes, they are winning elections," Romney said, "but more importantly, they are solving problems."
Romney has always had an uneasy relationship with the GOP base due to his history of backing moderate policies, and he may have overcompensated by tacking far to the right on several issues, such as immigration, during the primary season. So his attempt to nudge the party in a moderate direction was notable. Mitt Romney might have said he was in no position to give advice, says Jon Ward at The Huffington Post, but he went on to "gently, politely, but ever so clearly, challenge some of the more right-wing elements within the Republican Party."
At the same time, that message was diluted somewhat. Romney insisted that "a conservative view can attract a majority of Americans," says John Easley at Politics USA, even though Romney is walking proof that it's folly to base a campaign on such an assumption. Romney at one point said, "In the end, we will win just as we have won before, and for the same reason: because our cause is right, and just" — which suggested that he believes "the fundamentals are strong," writes Juliet Lapidos at The New York Times.
Not everyone who heard the speech, though, detected much advice in it at all. Romney's staff said he just wanted to thank his supporters, says Jim Newell at Britain's Guardian. "And yet us doofuses who came here to watch thought he might bother saying something interesting beyond that! No luck." Beyond asking conservatives to stop being mean to Christie, Romney's speech was about as "anodyne" as they come.
He really did just come to retell stories about a couple of token up-from-their-bootstraps achievers he met on the campaign trail, reaffirm how much he loves the military, and then peace off back to his mansion in La Jolla or New Hampshire or Belmont. [Guardian]
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