Gone, But Not (Yet) Forgotten: Mitt Romney’s Bittersweet Return to CPAC

The failed presidential candidate breaks his post-election silence to thank a party that’s ready to move on

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Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney at CPAC in National Harbor, Maryland March 15, 2013.

National Harbor, Maryland

The last time most of America saw Mitt Romney was on Election Night in Boston, when he shuffled offstage, stunned and stone-faced, at the victory party that had turned into his political wake. The next day he dropped out of sight. As the Republican Party tried to reconfigure itself in the wake of November’s pasting, Romney nursed his wounds at his California beach house. His lone post-election splash – an ungracious conference call in which he blamed his loss on the gifts Barack Obama bestowed on greedy minorities – did not stir sympathy. He said he was done with politics. And the party, for its part, seemed done with him.

So it was a little strange to see the former candidate, looking tanned and rested, stride into a cavernous ballroom here to the strains of Kid Rock’s Born Free, his old campaign anthem. The crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference here unleashed an earsplitting roar. “I am sorry that I will not be your president,” he told the crowd, “but I will be your co-worker, and I will stand shoulder to shoulder alongside you.”

(MORE: Rand Paul Steals Show From Marco Rubio at CPAC)

Romney’s first public speech since the election was classy but dissonant: part thank you to supporters, part rallying cry, part warmed-over stump speech. It was a re-entry into Republican politics at the precise moment the party is trying to move on. The theme of this year’s CPAC is “America’s Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives.” Romney is a reminder of conservative’s inglorious recent past.

Over the first two days of the conference, speakers came to this airy resort, nestled on the banks of the Potomac south of Washington, to lay out competing visions for how the party can set a new, winning direction — and jockey for position in the race to become its new standard-bearer. Few tears were shed for the old one. On Thursday, Texas Governor Rick Perry took a thinly veiled shot at Romney’s role in the November loss, suggesting the GOP dropped the past two election cycles because it failed to nominate a sufficiently conservative candidate.

CPAC – part trade show, part policy seminar, part political pulpit – is an annual reminder of the divergent factions that cohabitate under the Republican tent. Goldbugs rub elbows with neoconservatives. Survivalists hawk their wares; Tea Party groups screen dystopian fantasy movies; conservative think tanks distribute literature to earnest young acolytes of the Austrian economic school. CPAC is a place where activists collect USA foam fingers and tort-reform cozies and retro Reagan swag. Near an NRA booth where women in high heels lined up to play a skeet-shooting simulation game, a young man in a red knight’s sash passed out pamphlets lauding a lost culture of chivalry. After four months in seclusion, why had the former Massachusetts governor chosen to make his political return at this hard-core conservative confab, sandwiched between panels on the evils of abortion and the oppression of the plastics industry?

In a way, the carnival atmosphere of CPAC is as close to a home as Romney has had in the conservative movement. He has history here. Romney is a four-time winner of the gathering’s straw poll. In 2008, he quit his first presidential race onstage, an announcement that was met with boos from passionate supporters. One year ago, vying to stave off a Rick Santorum surge, he used the venue to assure the audience that he was “severely conservative” — a strained construction that reaffirmed skepticism instead.

(MORE: At CPAC, The Future Looks Libertarian)

Romney came, a former aide said, to thank supporters for their contributions to his campaigns. But he also came to atone and apologize, and to pledge his assistance as he passed the torch. “It’s up to us to learn from our mistakes — from my mistakes,” Romney said. “As someone who just lost the last election, I’m probably not in the best position to chart a course for the next one.”

Most conservatives at CPAC seemed to agree. “I’m not sure what his place in the party is. He’s a failed presidential candidate. He doesn’t hold elected office,” says Edward King of Young Americans for Liberty. “I’m not sure he’s got any real support here.” King was standing next to a typology of political figures, with “statists” like Obama and Nancy Pelosi on the bottom, social conservatives like Santorum on the right and libertarians like Rand Paul at the top. Romney’s face was alone in the center. A year ago, when he used the world conservative during his CPAC speech a whopping 27 times in as many minutes, Romney would have been miffed at the classification. Now he has all but given up trying to convince conservatives he is one of them. His speech Friday barely invoked the word.

Like all CPAC speakers, Romney had some advice for the party. In remarks that seemed an implicit rebuke to the libertarian foreign policy championed by Rand Paul, stressed the importance of U.S. military supremacy in an increasingly dangerous world. But for the most part, he was there to pay tribute to a movement that is plainly ready to move on. “Thank you again for your help and support along our journey,” he said. “Ann and I will treasure these memories all the days of our lives.” The crowd gave him a standing ovation. Romney lingered onstage for a moment, basking in the applause. Then he disappeared behind the velvet curtains of the stage.

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42 comments
MichaelJohnson
MichaelJohnson

a (very) small part of me feels sorry for Romney.  for six years he was the real life version of sisyphus, who tried to roll a boulder over a hill but always failed when he neared the top.  sisyphus was punished by zeus for his hubris and deceit, much like Romney was punished by voters for his derogatory remarks about the 47% and his elitism. 

HsvLinda
HsvLinda

@TIMEPolitics @aaltman82 CPAC rolled out same old same old with oblivious Tea-Ted Cruz lamenting Charlie Sheens WINNING! And Sara P.WHINING!

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

I heard Ted Kruz is giving the keynote speech today, so I hope that will finish this endless, breathless coverage of CPAC. I listen to NPR all the time and they have kept up with a note on every hourly news update in addition to features on the news programs. I was amused this morning, however, when the said Kruz would be the last speaker giving the keynote speech. Not sure where that came from, but the keynote speech is generally defined as the opening speech, setting the tone for a conference. Having it last is backwards -- fitting for this group.

One thing that hasn't had much publicity is the snide remarks like one from the Panel on Higher Education that I saw quoted, College is a liberal indoctrination camp where women learn they are exactly the same as men. What was that about changing the tone and appealing to women and minorities? Only the ones they already have apparently.

I look forward to comparable coverage of Net Roots Nation.

ParthaNeogy
ParthaNeogy

You meant "Forgotten but not yet Gone" didn't you?

afmajret
afmajret

I'm watching family and acquaintances sink farther and farther into denial about what is wrong with the Right. A willful blindness to the blatant racism it espouses and loud laments how no one understands them. They are, of course, wrong. We understand them perfectly. We just don't want anything to do with them.

TomSorensen
TomSorensen

Why doesn't he go back to California and jump off the cliff at Torrie Pines and put out all of us at ease

grape_crush
grape_crush

> Romney is a four-time winner of the gathering’s straw poll.

Guess he figured that paying to bus supporters to this year's CPAC to 'stuff the ballot box' was kind of unnecessary.

> In remarks that seemed an implicit rebuke to the libertarian foreign policy championed by Rand Paul, stressed the importance of U.S. military supremacy in an increasingly dangerous world.

Let's look at what was said.

"

  • 'It's no secret that the last century was an American century, and it's no secret that over the span of the coming century, that is not written in the stars. America's pre-eminent position is not guaranteed. And the consequence if America were to become surpassed by another nation would be devastating. Why do I say that? It's because the other leading contenders for world leadership -- China, Russia, the jihadists -- not one of them accepts freedom as we understand it.'

So, let me get this straight. The man who sought the nation's highest office for six years seriously believes 'jihadists' will compete with the United States on the international stage? In Romney's vision, 'jihadists' have the potential to become a global superpower, capable of 'world leadership,' on par with the U.S. of A.?"

God, did we dodge a bullet when he didn't get elected.

jmac
jmac

Romney's history.  But the Head Honcho in the Senate is out touting the Republican mantras:

Mitch McConnell   --   "  likened the party’s resistance to “Obamacare” to his own successful effort to eradicate the campaign finance law known as McCain-Feingold.  'We gave it everything we had,” he said, adding, “We can’t stand by and look at the assault on liberty and do nothing.'"

The Party of Stupid is never going to get the economy.  It's why we have to hire Democrats to clean up after them time and time again.  Rand Paul is slamming Occupy Wall Street as those who just want a handout as he proclaims we're not going to EVER bail out the banks again  --- as McConnell brags about killing McCain-Feingold.    Beyond stupid.    And apparently none of them can recognize a Republican Health Care Plan when they see one.       


Ohiolib
Ohiolib

A party that's ready to move on...from what, exactly? Paranoia, racism and conspiracy theories?

fhmadvocat
fhmadvocat

It seems to me very odd to have Romney at CPAC.  Everyone saw his "conservativism" as a facade and his days as a polical force are over.  In one sense he can be "loved" by Conservatives as he never introduced any national policies for them to condemn.  His arguments about what he did wrong are not going to help the party in the next election.  Conservatives may blame Romney, but it was Conservatives who dragged Romney down, not the other way around.

Really who can take CPAC seriously these days.  They don't invite Chris Christie or even Bob McDonald, but they invite Donald Trump!  It demonstrates that they can't be taken seriously at all.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

His lone post-election splash – an ungracious conference call in which he blamed his loss on the gifts Barack Obama bestowed on greedy minorities – did not stir sympathy. He said he was done with politics. And the party, for its part, seemed done with him.

Can the media be done with him too?  Really tired of hearing about this privileged sore loser that felt he deserved to win the election because it was his time.  I don't think we've seen a more hollow politician than Mitt Romney in the past 30 years; let's move on and quickly forget him please.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

That's how rightists treat all their ex-standard bearers that still live and breathe.

Herbert Bush-Tax rasier! He's dead to us.

Cranky Dole-We won't even pass the disability treaty with him making a plea on the Senate floor. He's dead to us.

W-Who? We can't quite place the name.

Saint McCain-We never liked that guy in the first place. Except his great judgement in running mates.

Willard-See above.

retiredvet
retiredvet

@grape_crush  You are technically correct that Romney was running for six years. But as a resident of Massachusetts, I can tell you that he started in the third year of his governorship here. He was conspicuously not present in the state for the last two. So actually it was eight years.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@grape_crush  The same way the Harlem Globetrotters dodged a bullet when they played the Generals.

Other than that I take your point about the cluelessness of Willard.

reallife
reallife

@jmac “Don’t tell me Democrats are the party of the future when their presidential ticket for 2016 is shaping up to look like a rerun of the ‘Golden Girls,’” McConnell said during his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference  

you forgot that part

LOL

 

Sue_N
Sue_N

@Ohiolib Please. If they give up those, they won't have anything at all.

retiredvet
retiredvet

Add to Trump these esteemed guests: Ann Coulter, Dana Loesch, Tucker Carlson, Ben Shapiro, Phillis Schlafly, Morton Blackwell, Katie Pavlich, Betsy McCaughey, J. Christian Adams, Dinesh D'Souza, Myron Ebell, Joel Pollak and Colin Hanna.

retiredvet
retiredvet

@fhmadvocatI like this comment from another article on CPAC:

"CPAC exemplifies everything that has gone wrong within the Republican Party, as the annual gathering is essentially a full-fledged political circus ... complete with a multitude of bombastic clowns and an abundant supply of elephant poop."

pearsonr
pearsonr

heh,

Paul, your comment reminds me of an adage that sums up the CPAC MO, that "Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed"

which seems, imho, a bit akin to the definition of insanity; "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result"

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

@retiredvet @grape_crush During the campaign I kept posting a link to a Charlie Pierce post detailing how Mitt was missing in action in MA once he decided to run for president. It wasn't pretty. OTOH, he left you folks pretty much alone. 

jmac
jmac

@reallife @jmac The laughs on you, Reallie.   Mitch is 71 and looking over his shoulder at that young, energetic heifer on his heels.  He's so nervous he's already running ads against her and she hasn't even announced.  LOL

La_Randy
La_Randy

@reallife @jmac Where your comment fails, among other prejudices, is that it is the policies that each party espouses that matter. Age or gender does not apply to a reasonable unbiased person.

A meme that you will never understand rusty.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@pearsonr I think you are correct, but perhaps too limited. It's not just CPAC that feels that way.

That's why all the posturing about moving on immigration or marriage equality to broaden their members is just that-posturing. 

I've said it before but I'll repeat-the modern day republican party is like a stock reduction. Increasingly smaller, increasingly intense. 

retiredvet
retiredvet

@Ivy_B  @grape_crush By that time he wasn't very popular anyway. So it didn't matter too much. Is drop in approval was partly due to his absence. I'm convinced that being a governor was not his goal. He was convinced that being president was his destiny.

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

@jmac @reallife Do you mean that energetic woman who has a masters in public policy from Harvard? The one that, as you say, Mitch has been running sexist ads against for months? That one??

outsider
outsider

@jmac @reallife  

Personally, i hope she does; and cleans that turtle looking fool out of office. 

He's bad for Amurika! 

reallife
reallife

@jmac @reallife   you mean the "starlet"?  lol  she doesnt even know in which state she's running - is it tennessee? kentucky?  hahahahaha good luck

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@reallife @Paul,nnto Over the years you've made that "We'll get you next time!" comment almost as often as you've changed your handles at Swampland.

And with every bit as much effectiveness.