The Conservative Political Action Conference 2007 (CPAC) had almost 4,000 participants this year. All of the major declared GOP presidential candidates were there, with the exception of Sen. John McCain. Gov. Mitt Romney's people were out in full force making it look like the last days of the New Hampshire primary. Everywhere Sen. Sam Brownback went there were Romney people. Everywhere Governor Romney went there were Brownback people. The halls were littered with bright colored flip-flops with the anti-Romney version of ''I voted for the war before I voted against it.'' No one took credit for the flip-flops but most people concluded the Brownback camp supplied them. A man dressed as ''Flipper'' the dolphin sported an anti-Romney sign. I didn't think the convention could get much worse until I saw a snaked line out the door of 20-something males drooling at the thought of getting to see or touch Ann Coulter. Then Romney spoke.
Romney decided to go full speed ahead with trying to win over the conservative base of the party. His speech was a right-wing focus group reprint. It sounded like his speechwriters ''Googled,''''right-wing agenda,'' and cut and pasted as much as they could possibly fit. His speech was 2,164 words and he mentioned tax or taxes 18 times, spending 4 times and Iraq once. Children got a mere mention three times, mostly within the context of ''family values,'' or immigration. He made no mention of health care or education.
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He dissed Massachusetts as a liberal state including its senior Sen. Ted Kennedy. ''Coming from Massachusetts, I saw first hand the liberal future, and it doesn't work,'' he said. Later in the speech he went after the state again. ''Massachusetts became center stage for the liberal social agenda – sort of San Francisco east, Nancy Pelosi style.'' He has a short memory. The ''liberal'' state elected him as its governor and it had elected Republican Governor Weld before him. In fact, until this January, Massachusetts had been governed for sixteen straight years by Republicans. He bragged about their being 600 less state employees on the payroll when he took office, but he somehow left out the fact that he was out of the state 219 days in 2006, making it hard to take credit for such good management style. I wonder if he counted himself as one of the cut employees. I suppose he could justify it since he was out of the state more than he was in it.
He hit every topic that was designed to make the CPAC crowd happy. He fed them the red meat they wanted to hear. He talked about how he supported the petition to get gay marriage on the ballot, cloning human embryos, how he supported the Catholic Church in Massachusetts to make sure those adoptions went to heterosexual families. He was proud of the fact that he enforced the law preventing gays from out-of-state from coming to Massachusetts to get married.
He took a shot at McCain – another ''born again'' social conservative. First he went after McCain- Feingold's election finance reform bill, then he went after the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill; and in one fell swoop, he discharged his venom at two of his enemies. He then kissed up big time to the immigration lets fence them out, or ''fence of spin,'' crowd while knowing full well that this fence is not going to get built in the foreseeable future. It is very safe rhetoric for a conservative crowd.
But what was most amazing in Romney's speech was, the ''devil's gonna getcha'' quality of it. He paraded out every conservative boogieman imaginable. The line that knocked me over, (and some of my Republican friends who were at CPAC with me), was ''Conservatism is a belief in strength. It is because of America's strength that we don't all speak German and that our kids don't all speak Russian. And it is because of America's strength that our grandchildren will not have to speak Farsi or Arabic or Chinese.''
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Huh? Is this guy for real? Does Governor Romney think that he can rile up the crowd with such simplistic emotion-laden words and then win a general election of a population who just voted his party out of Congress? Does he really think that even if he can pull off winning the Republican nomination that an eight-years wiser electorate (George W. Bush 2001-2009) is really going to fall for the same tricks and political pabulum again?
I think Gov. Romney's timing is off. Just as many wish Sen. Obama had ten more years of experience, Romneyites wish he was running ten years ago, or even two years ago. It was obvious he had identified most of his advisors before the 2006 mid-term elections. His strategy was in place before the sea of change took place in Congress and when he thought he had only McCain and Brownback to contend with. The electorate woke up and restored some balance in one branch of the government. Rudy Giuliani entering the race is a sign that Americans are not ready to support a conservative social agenda at the expense of more pressing issues. Romney's words come off as just that, words. The crowd clapped at the right times but did not seem to be overwhelmingly impressed. Maybe they were passing the time thinking of the speech with Ann Coulter.
Whether Romney is selling or leasing his soul to CPAC is unknown, but what is known is that if he wins the Republican nomination, we will have a Democrat living in the White House in January of 2009.