Sizing up the challenge ahead for Republicans in the 2012 election, Mitt Romney told the CPAC audience, “It’s up to us to prove that we’re really ready to stop forward and lead this country.” Romney faced much the same challenge with respect to conservatives.
Romney is a polished speaker with some great applause lines, making him an interesting contrast with the rough-hewn sincerity of Rick Santorum. As in many of this other appearances, Romney drew the most sustained applause from the crowd when he refused to apologize for his success. That really is something that can’t-do class-warfare America needs to hear. If we’re not supposed to admire success, then what are we supposed to admire?
Beyond today’s news headlines and economic statistics, Romney sees “the pain so many of us feel in our hearts” as “for three years, we’ve suffered through the failures not only of a weak leader, but a bankrupt ideology.” If Republicans do their job in the next election, Romney predicts history will record the Obama presidency as “the last gasp of liberalism’s failure.”
He sees “the very heart of America conservatism” as “the conviction that the principles embodied in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are uniquely powerful, foundational, and defining.”
“I know that this President will never get it,” said Romney, “but we conservatives aren’t just proud to cling to our guns and our religion. We’re proud to cling to our Constitution.” In the writings of the Founding Fathers, we find the wisdom to see prosperity “not as a product of government, but as the product of individual citizens, each pursuing happiness.” Freedom, free people, and free enterprises go hand-in-hand.
Barack Obama, who has grasped none of that wisdom, is “the poster child for the arrogance of government.”
Romney said there were different paths one could follow to conservatism. Romney’s own path came “through my family, through my faith, and through my life’s work.” In relating the story of his family and their values, he implicitly asked the audience to see any less-than-ideal policies he might have pursued while he “fought against long odds in a deep blue state” as deviations from a true conservative faith he held all along, and never truly abandoned.
Some might say Romney was telling the audience what it wanted to hear. There’s no question they did want to hear it. Romney’s appeal as a candidate is a transaction in which his assets are seen to outweigh his liabilities, making a Romney vote appear to be a smart political investment. If there was one false note in his presentation, it was his use of the curious term “severely conservative governor” to describe himself. The crowd didn’t mind, but that phrase won’t age well in post-CPAC sound bites.
His greatest asset is the simple appeal of his financial skill and business success, compared to the failure of Obama’s ideology and foolishness. Every Solyndra disaster makes a man who actually does know how to make an investment look better, not just to conservatives, but to the electorate at large. “In business, if you’re not fiscally conservative, you’re bankrupt,” Romney asserted. He got more applause than he was expecting with that line, because the country is emerging from three years of misguidance by a man who couldn’t run a lemonade stand without needing a huge taxpayer bailout.
“I served the government, but I didn’t inhale,” Romney joked, echoing Bill Clinton’s famous line about his experiences with marijuana. The image of the businessman reformer, who will come to Washington to take care of business, and then “go home to be with my family” as Romney put it, is powerful in today’s political climate.
One of the reasons the assaults on his Bain Capital career didn’t hurt Romney much is that a lot of people, including a big chunk of the vaunted independent electorate, pretty much expects a successful President to deal with Washington the way Romney managed those Bain investments. Swoop in, develop a business plan, clean out the dead weight, stop the financial bleeding, and watch those stock values rise! When Romney said “I want to get my hands on Washington, D.C.,” he knows voters are thinking of his private-sector resume, and his success turning around the Olympics, even more than his experience as governor of Massachusetts.
He brings a similar businesslike attitude to social issues, promising to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, support a constitutional marriage amendment, and defend religious liberty as part of his business plan for post-acquisition Washington, D.C. Borrowing 40 cents on every dollar we spend is “unconscionable, unsustainable, reckless, and immoral,” and “it will end under my presidency.” When he talks like that, Mitt Romney sounds competent. Is it really necessary to hunt for any deeper secret to his appeal?