Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivered his long awaited address to CPAC today. Most commentaries noted the following:
1. He used the word “conservative” so many times you could swear he was trying to hypnotize the audience (and perhaps he was).
2. He used a teleprompter almost completely in the style of President Barack Obama. Which raises the obvious question now being asked: will Newt Gingrich, conservative writers, and talk show hosts make that a big topic now? Or is the teleprompter riff only used against Democrats and never used against GOPers who must use it (or write notes on the palms of their hands)? Yes…you guessed it.
3. He truly seemed to try to convince the largely young crowd that he was one of them and reminded them of his status with them in some past years.
But the main thing getting the headline is the fact he said he was “severely conservative:”
Mitt Romney faced thousands of conservative activists on Friday and urged them to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with him as he works to oust President Obama from office in November.
Mr. Romney received a cordial reception from the audience, which applauded the loudest when he said he would not apologize for believing in capitalism.
“I know conservatism because I have lived conservatism,” Mr. Romney said to the thousands gathered at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
Mr. Romney has struggled to attract support from the most conservative voters in several presidential nominating contests so far. His efforts to woo those voters fell far short on Tuesday, when Rick Santorum won elections in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri.
But on Friday, Mr. Romney cast himself as a committed conservative who would repeal the president’s health care law, stand against abortion rights, shrink government and defend traditional marriage.
“I was a severely conservative Republican governor,” Mr. Romney said after listing his accomplishments in Massachusetts. “I fought against long odds in a deep blue state.”
Is that what he meant? (Could have have meant severely constipated? I mean, some will argue that is what he is ideologically.).
Here’s NBC’s report on Romney’s speech:
Mitt Romney’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference today was a step in the right direction for the candidate on many levels. He tacitly acknowledged that he wasn’t steeped in conservative ideology at the same time he paid homage to it, noting that growing up he would have mistaken Burke and Hayek for members of the Detroit Tigers lineup. He all but micturated on the grave of compassionate conservatism by proclaiming that he was a “severely conservative” governor of Massachussetts. (The crowd liked it a lot, though the jury’s still out on whether the record matches the rhetoric.) He spoke convincingly about family values, drawing on his experience being married 42(!) years and raising five boys. He told at least one surprisingly good joke—”I served in government, but I didn’t inhale.” And he got a standing ovation when he proclaimed he was he was not ashamed of his business success.
The “severely conservative” line is, I expect, the takeaway moment from the speech. It wasn’t in the drafted version, which means that during the speech, somewhere in the recesses of Mitt Romney’s mind, he decided he needed to come up with a new adjective describing just how gosh-darn conservative he was, something this crowd would like, and the search algorithm came back with “severely.” So that’s what he went with. Severely conservative!
Remember George W. Bush? You do? Ha, you must not be at CPAC. But George W. Bush came into office promising compassionate conservativism. As it turns out, it wasn’t very compassionate in practice. Oh, and it also was a car wreck. Nobody wants to hear that crap anymore. The conservative crowd does not want to hear about compassionate conservatism, they want to hear, in 2012, about severe conservatism. Sadistic, leather-bound, whip-wielding conservatism is what they want. Rick Santorum can give them that, but Mitt Romney has never been “severely” anything in his life, except perhaps for “severely” rich or “severely” out of touch.
“Severe” is something you associate with a bad illness—you can have a “severe” rash, or a “severe” case of intestinal distress. “Severe” is the Catholic nun you had in Sunday School who never quite got the message that clubbing the children with things was no longer part of God’s Great Plan. There are “severe” recessions, but there are never any “severe” recoveries. “Severe” is bad.
So you can see why it’s so popular.
This is all very strange. Why would a guy need to tell people he’s conservative 25 times in 26 minutes? Could it be because…he’s not? Would Governor Palin, for example, need to assure her audience she’s a conservative once a minute for the duration of her speech? I think not. Is the only significant achievement during the Mittster’s tenure as a “severely conservative Republican governor”, RomneyCare, an example of his severe conservatism? If so, why didn’t he tout this glittering example of conservatism in his CPAC speech?
Not a gamechanger but not a bad speech either. If you like him, this will do nothing to dissuade you; if you don’t, this won’t change your mind; and if you’re undecided, you’re still undecided despite him dropping the word “conservative” into virtually every other sentence. (According to WaPo, a Republican strategist advised him recently to include more “conservative code words” in his rhetoric. The first conservative code word deployed: “Conservative,” of course.) His best moment here, I think, comes at 9:00 when he defends his work at Bain, but the takeaway line emerges at 14:15 when he describes himself — the architect of RomneyCare, remember — as having been … a “severely conservative Republican governor.” The awkwardness of that phrase is Romney’s whole candidacy in a nutshell. The word “severely” is almost always used colloquially in a pejorative or clinical sense (“severely unhappy,” “severely handicapped”), yet he’s using it here in a boastful way, as if to say that he can be as strident and unreasonable as he thinks the crowd needs him to be to give them comfort on his ideological bona fides as nominee. I go back and forth between being annoyed that a guy as intelligent as he is can’t even fake his identification with the right more effectively and feeling sympathy for him that he can’t connect with his audience on a gut level. That’s a tremendous retail disability for a politician and it must cause Romney no little agony, but he limps on towards the nomination regardless. If he ends up winning in spite of it, even with all his other advantages it’ll be an achievement..