Alas, I wish that I could be in Washington, D.C. right now, attending the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference, one of the largest and most fun collections of conservatives put on each year by the American Conservative Union. There is something great about being in that type of atmosphere.
For a long time, I planned to go, too. I have quite a few friends in conservative new media that are there, talking frankly and candidly with pundits, politicians and presidential candidates alike during the day, and exercising and testing the limits of their livers at night. It would have been a great time, but this year it just was not in the cards.
Addressing the crowd today is GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney. Given the contentious nature of the Republican presidential primary to date, and given the inherent distrust shown by many conservatives in Romney, it would have been nice to be a fly on the wall at his speech.
It would be even better to be delivering it. If I were Mitt Romney, here’s how I would start:
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. And Newt. [Laugh line.] It is a pleasure to be here in our nation’s capital with so many great conservatives, and the tone and tenor of what I have seen here this week reinforce the idea that, so long as we can gain the White House and the Senate in the fall, this country really will be in good hands.
By now, folks, you know me. My name is Mitt Romney. I am a businessman. I was a Republican governor in the bluest of blue states. And, today, I stand before you seeking the Republican Party nomination so that I may run against Barack Obama in the fall for president of the United States.
Four years ago, at this very conference, I came out here to this very podium and suspended my campaign, leaving conservatives in the Republican Party with John McCain as their standard-bearer. That day, I remember looking out in the crowd and hearing someone exclaim, “No! Stay in the race!” That day, I remember meeting a woman who told me that she had actually begun sobbing when I made the announcement.
Here I am, four years later, after espousing the same conservative ideals for not two years but six years, after routinely taking the fight to and drawing a contrast from Barack Obama, and I am asking for your trust. I am asking for your endorsement. I am asking for your support. I am asking for your vote. I am the same man who you felt was the “conservative alternative to John McCain,” and yet all anyone has been talking about is who can be the “conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.”
I don’t want to make anyone cry today. That’s Ann Coulter’s job. [Laugh line.] I want to earn your confidence, and eliminate any questions as to whether I can truly carry the mantle of President Ronald Reagan, who would have turned 101 years old this past Monday.
Next, if I were Mitt Romney, I would spend some time talking about my record in Massachusetts and beyond. I would mention that I fought for tax cuts year after year after year against a steadfastly obstructionist state legislature. I would talk up the tax plan I proposed in late 2009–before anyone else–and I would explain how that tax plan as it stands now would benefit everyone from top to bottom.
I would explain that, even in Massachusetts, where liberal Democrats wanted to throw money at everything, average spending increased only 2.22 percent over my four years, and contrast that with the explosion of spending we have seen out of Washington, D.C. during Obama’s first term and George W. Bush’s last term. I would tout the spending cuts I immediately forced upon the legislature right after taking office as governor in 2003. I would explain how I made cuts across the board, and worked to tighten a $3 billion deficit gap — even though much of what I looked to do was tossed aside by lefty legislators.
I would also do something that, unfortunately, the real Mitt Romney just refuses to do. I would acknowledge that, yes, RomneyCare was an exercise in federalism, in employing the states as laboratories for policy, but I would also acknowledge that it has failed. Failed. Failed. Failed. I would also announce that I would seek the counsel of people like Mitch Daniels, who has instituted incredible and successful health care reforms in his own state of Indiana. And I would double down on my promise to repeal ObamaCare. Only by blatantly and overtly acknowledging the failure of RomneyCare can Mitt credibly draw a contrast with the president on such a critical issue. Any perceived flip-flop could be minimalized by self-deprecation and a willingness to learn from others, i.e. Daniels.
The CPAC crowd also loves school choice, and I would briefly touch upon my record of supporting a voucher system and facilitating the expansion of charter schools. I would also explain as best possible my change in policy over the fate of the Department of Education.
Most importantly, I would talk about the economy. I would talk about the comments I made just a week or two ago about purportedly not being concerned about the very poor. I would use that poorly-chosen statement as a teaching moment, both to acknowledge and teach about the bias in the mainstream press and the likelihood that the statement would be taken out of context, and to ensure that CPAC attendees understood that I understand the larger problem with that statement. My words might go something like this:
Oh, boy. I know that those probably weren’t the best words to say. I know that they’ll be taken out of context by the left, and I know that even in their entirety my comments do not make a whole bunch of you feel good. The thing is — so long as we can lead with conservative principles and implement truly conservative policies, we will not need to be concerned about the very poor because truly conservative policies uplift everybody.
That’s the point I needed to make. Yes, we have a safety net, but no, it should not be used as a hammock. And surely, we can fix some of the problems that plague that safety net — but among the largest of those problems, in my opinion, is the way that the safety net brings about dependence on government. That’s a “hole” that needs to be patched up. That’s part of what I was trying to say on CNN, and part of what I need to say here.
The Democrats would like to dismiss us as the “Party of No,” when in reality we are the “Party of Ideas.” Newt Gingrich, bless his heart, is not the only “idea guy” in the Republican Party. From Barry Goldwater to Paul Ryan, our party is fraught with idea guys, and it is in those ideas that we can all find prosperity.
I don’t want to have a “very poor” in this country. I want to lift up the very poor and ensure that they can have the dignity of being able to provide for themselves. The only way we can do that is by replacing this government from the top down, cutting the size of this government, capping the spendthrift nature of this government, and ensuring that this government has to follow the same common-sense fiscal rules that each and every one of you does at your kitchen table.
I am standing here today because I want to be your guy. I want to be your ideas guy. I want to be your national security guy. I want to be the guy that you trust is a good guy, a guy with no baggage, a guy who has your back, and a guy that will get out of your way. Four years ago, I came here to concede. Today, I come here to succeed. I need your trust. I need your blessing. I need your votes.
Thank you very much. God Bless America.
That’s how I’d do it. Romney needs trust. He needs to be able to tout his successes, admit his failures and, given those recent statements, he needs to assure conservatives that he understands how the organic nature of conservatism can help everyone prosper. There is little doubt that Mitt Romney is a good a decent man — he just needs to show that he is a trustworthy conservative.
I wish I were there to see it.