CPAC Diary: Mitt Romney Returns to CPAC in Exciting Pseudo-Event

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 15, 2013.

Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

It was the question that befuddled CPAC and doubly befuddled the press corps. Why was Mitt Romney at CPAC again? What would he say? McKay Coppins, who covered Romney closely in 2012, polled advisers who suggested that “Romney has come to CPAC as a good-faith effort to renew some measure of goodwill between himself and the conservative movement.”

If so, it was classic Romney: Speaking to an audience of people inclined to like him, not especially desirous of being challenged or told to change. Romney gave a condensed version of his stump speech, complete with Real Stories from Real Americans.

I have seen American determination in people like Debbi Sommers…

Harold Hamm drove a truck for ten years so that he could afford to go to college…

I met a Cambodian-American named Sichan Siv…

Post-game criticism of Romney, from conservatives, has focused on two things. First: By passing a mandate-based version of health care reform in his state, Romney had undercut the best argument against Barack Obama. Romney didn’t mention health care at all in this speech. “Perhaps because I am a former governor,” he said, “I would urge you to learn the lessons that come from some of our greatest success stories: the 30 Republican governors.” Those lessons: A constitutional amendment to expand charter schools, right-to-work legislation, tort reform. Whether intentional or not, Romney was saying “do something conservative, don’t compromise with the liberals trying to expand health insurance.”

The second hate-fueled pile-on of Romney has centered on the great existential question of the race: What about his gaffes? What had Romney done to himself by (before the election) characterizing 47 percent of voters as moochers and (afterwards) saying minority voters had been bought off with “gifts”? Romney didn’t edge close to an apology for this. Actually, he was introduced by a governor whose career he aided very early – Nikki Haley of South Carolina – who used her remarks to pledge eternal vigilence against Obamacare. “We’re not going to expand Medicaid, ever,” she said.

Romney satisfied the reporters, at least. After a long and mockable exile in California, he offered some platitudes about working with the party. “I am sorry that I will not be your president,” he said, “but I will be your co-worker and I will stand shoulder to shoulder with you.”

Would he? Would any Republican covet a Mitt Romney fundraising appearance?

“That was sadder than Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech,” one reporter snarked, after Romney finished and the press file declined by half.