Mitt Romney’s thirteen-minute address to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday (February 27th) not only drew prolonged applause and cheers, but also started immediate speculation among the 8,000-plus CPAC participants: was this speech of the former Massachusetts governor and ’08 Republican Presidential hopeful the kickoff to a second White House bid in 2012?
Romney was introduced by American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene as one who conservatives “didn’t know much about” when he first addressed the conservative conclave in ’06 but was now clearly accepted on the right as “one of the family.”
Joking that the Obama Administration may “arrest me for practicing capitalism,” the Massachusetts businessman who was once viewed with distrust on the right described himself as “filled with gratitude” for the support he received from many in the audience at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington. Addressing them one year after he used his CPAC remarks to withdraw from the GOP race, Romney said he felt as though he was “coming home.”
As for President Obama, the onetime Republican presidential hopeful began on a statesmanlike note: “We should disagree with him when we must, and agree with him when we can.”
But most of Romney’s remarks were a response to Barack Obama’s recent address to Congress — and then some.
Romney said, “America voted for change. America did not vote for a boat-load of new government spending programs that would guarantee higher taxes and high deficits as far as the eye can see and that would threaten our currency, our economy, and our future. We must be the alternative course.”
Along with addressing the new President’s economic stimulus package and budget, Romney also weighed in on foreign policy and national security.
“[American] troops are coming home [from Iraq] in larger numbers in spite of Barack Obama’s stance, not because of it,” the Bay State man said, prompting prolonged cheers, “and they are coming home in victory!” Romney went on to note that Obama has said he will tear down the prison for terrorists at Guantanamo “without giving the slightest indication of the next stop for the killers being held there now.” He branded that the “very kind of thinking that left America vulnerable before the attack on September 11 .” Again, there were prolonged cheers and chants of “USA! USA!” that have been heard often since 9/11.
Romney strongly underscored the need to finish the war on terrorism, pointing out that it is “the gravest matter of national security [when] Jihadists are still at war with America.” In Romney’s words, “there is no greater duty than vigilant defense and no greater cause than a victory for freedom.”
In a relatively brief address, Romney nonetheless pressed the right buttons with his audience: that a call to “redefine conservatism” misses the mark (a not-so-subtle slap at Florida’s more moderate GOP Gov. Charlie Crist) and conservatives have “principles that endure;” that “we [conservatives] will not stand by when liberal judges try to rewrite the Constitution and override democracy;” that Republicans in the House should be praised because they “stood their ground and voted no” unanimously on Obama’s near-trillion dollar stimulus package; and that, in seeking economic recovery, conservatives should “rule out a higher tax on investment” and seek taxes on interest, dividends, and capital gains that are absolutely zero;” that while there is a case for bailouts of institution and the use of TARP money, “it should not be used to bailout out GM, Chrysler, and the UAW.”
Coupled with his win in this year’s CPAC straw poll for 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls, Mitt Romney’s address could easily be the start of something big.