In his first public speech since his election defeat, former presidential nominee Mitt Romney found himself as the main afternoon speaker on the second day of the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
The general attitude toward Romney was indifferent. Previous speakers made vague jokes about Romney’s viability as a candidate, and Romney was never well-liked by the conservative base of the Republican party. Last year, at CPAC 2012, Romney attempted to dispel concerns that he was not conservative enough but had trouble achieving that goal.
This year, as James Hohmann of Politico reports, many attendees at CPAC 2013 didn’t seem to look forward to Romney’s speech. Instead, the focus was on yesterday’s motivational afternoon speakers, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. While other speakers continue to reference the future of the Republican party, how can Romney, forever marked as a disappointing loser, have any influence?
Before Romney came out to speak, a surprise fired up the conference as Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina came out to announce her state’s new voter-ID requirements and introduce Romney. She praised him, saying, “This is a leader we need to stand up and give the loudest applause ever.”
Needless to say, when Romney walked out, the room erupted. With resounding applause and several shouts of “We love you Mitt!”, it was apparent that Romney still has a strong following in the conservative movement. He began by talking about the election and thanking supporters. “We’ve lost races before in the past, but those setbacks prepared us for larger victories,” he said.
Romney moved on to discussing his thoughts for the future of the Republican party. “As someone who just lost the last election, I’m probably not in the best position to chart a course for the next one,” he acknowledged. However, he did offer some advice, imploring conservatives to look up to the 30 Republican governors across the country as “success stories.”
“Only America and American strength can preserve freedom – for us and for the world,” said Romney. America is the most philanthropic and generous nation, and Romney listed numerous examples of the American military power being used to liberate the oppressed, fight AIDS, and restore countries ravaged by national disasters.
“I am sorry I will not be your President,” he said, “but I will be your co-worker, and I will work shoulder to shoulder beside you.”
Though Romney may have lost the election, his legacy will not die so easily among his supporters.