At CPAC, Red-Meat Romney Gives Stump Speech a Test Run

by Robert Costa

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a likely 2012 presidential contender, spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington this morning. His speech, delivered briskly, was a sharp attack on the Obama agenda. Romney, the former chief executive at Bain Capital, dubbed the president’s economic policies the “most failed social experiment in modern history.”

“Let me make this very clear,” Romney said. “If I decide to run for president, it sure won’t take me two years to wake up to the job crisis threatening America. And I won’t be asking Timothy Geithner how the economy works — or Larry Summers how to start a business. I know.” Cheers ensued.

As we noted earlier, Romney tied Obama’s leadership to the high unemployment around the country. Obama, he argued, has created 21st-century “Hoovervilles.” The president’s inability to steward the economy, he lamented, is a “moral tragedy.” Liberals, he added, should be “ashamed.”

“President Barack Obama has stood watch over the greatest job loss in modern American history,” Romney said. “And that, my friends, is one inconvenient truth that will haunt this president throughout history. … It’s going to take a lot more than new rhetoric to put Americans back to work — it’s going to take a new president.”

On foreign policy, Romney slammed Obama, calling him “weak” and lacking a “clear direction.” But he did not wade into the unfolding drama in Egypt, instead opting to cast his criticisms more broadly. His themes, too, were wider in scope, focused more on American exceptionalism and the never-apologize thrust of his recent bestseller, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. “I will not and I will never apologize for America,” he said, to applause.

Romney also enjoyed ripping into Obama’s superficial tack to the center. “The president went from ‘Change you can believe in’ to ‘Can you believe this change?’” he joked, in a section about the president’s State of the Union address. “He sounded like he was going to dig up the first lady’s organic garden to put in a Bob’s Big Boy.”

The red-meat one-liners kept coming. “Make no mistake: What we are watching is not Brave New World; what we’re watching is Groundhog Day!” Romney exclaimed. “It could be worse? This is the leader of the free world’s answer to the greatest job loss since the Great Depression? What’s next? ‘Let them eat cake’? Oh, excuse me. Organic cake.”

Unlike many CPAC speakers, Romney did not spend chunks of his speech criticizing Obamacare, perhaps for good reason: The health-care program he spearheaded in the Bay State, which mandated coverage, remains controversial in conservative circles. By mostly avoiding this issue, he left the stage as a crowd-pleaser.

Romney was introduced by his wife, Ann, who took to the podium as Van Halen’s “Right Now” blared across the cavernous ballroom at the Marriott Wardman Park. Mrs. Romney praised her husband’s values and seemed more than ready to hit the campaign trail. “I know Mitt as a person, a very good person. I have also seen him as a leader,” she said. “And I, for one, would like to see him lead the country as president of the United States.

Romney has had positive receptions at CPAC before; he has won the conference’s straw poll three times. “CPAC is always fabulous,” he said, smiling warmly. “What a welcome, great friends.”

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