Mitt Romney is back. And while he may not be better than ever, he’s at least less political.
The failed Republican presidential candidate spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday–his first public address since his election night concession speech.
“As someone who just lost the last election, I’m probably not the best person to chart the course for the next election,” said Romney. “That said, I do have advice. Perhaps because I am a former governor, I would urge you to learn the lessons that come from some of our greatest success stories: the 30 Republican governors,” pointing to Nathan Deal of Georgia and Rick Snyder of Michigan.
Romney didn’t exactly throw red meat to the crowd of conservatives, instead talking mostly about America in general, offering rather bland bromides, while saying very little about the GOP or conservatism.
“If I were to offer advice to any president of the United States, it would be this: do whatever you can do to keep America the most prosperous and free and powerful nation on earth,” he said.
He warned if America’s leadership weakens, it will become vulnerable to “China, Russia and the Jihadists.”
The speech contrasted greatly from his CPAC speech last year, which was right in the middle of the heated Republican primaries. At the time, he had lost the South Carolina primary to ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich in addition to losing Colorado and Minnesota to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Struggling to win over conservative primary voters, Romney insisted in 2012 that as Massachusetts governor, “I fought against long odds in a deep blue state, but I was a severely conservative Republican governor.” In fact, he mentioned the word “conservative” or “conservatism” 27 times in his speech.
This time around? Just three.
In 2012, “On my watch, we fought hard and prevented Massachusetts from being the Las Vegas of gay marriage,” in addition to promising to repeal Obamacare (he was under intense criticism for instituting a similar plan as Obama’s during his time as governor), and touting that he was the only candidate who never worked a day in D.C. No such partisan rhetoric this year.
This time, no mention of same-sex marriage or Obamacare.
On Friday, Romney also name checked governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bob McDonnell of Virginia—two lawmakers CPAC has been heavily criticized for not inviting.
“We need the ideas and leadership of each of these governors,” he said, adding Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Mexico’s Susanna Martinez and Nevada’s Brian Sandoval.
Overall, Romney was warmly received—drawing big applause from the crowd at multiple points. But his fellow speakers haven’t been as kind.
During his own CPAC speech, Texas Gov. Rick Perry took a big jab at his former 2012 competitor. On Thursday he told the audience that “the popular media narrative is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideas, as evidence by the last two presidential elections. That’s what they think.”Perry added, “…That might be true if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012.”
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky: “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered. I don’t think we need to name any names here, do we?”
And Florida Sen. Marco Rubio seemed to reference Romney’s damning 47% video, in which he characterized nearly half of the electorate as government freeloaders.
“Our people have not changed,” the Tea Party favorite said. “The vast majority of the American people are hard-working taxpayers who take responsibility for their families, go to work every day, they pay their mortgage on time, they volunteer in their community. This is where the vast majority of the American people are.”