NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — A funny thing happened Friday at the 40th rendition of the Conservative Political Action Conference: failed 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney received a hero's welcome.
Last year, Romney faced a CPAC audience skeptical enough of his conservative bona fides that he felt the need to ad lib during the speech that his term as Massachusetts governor had been defined by his "severe" conservatism. When Romney's invite to this year's CPAC was announced, I imagined the crowd yawning through his speech, if they bothered to attend the mid-afternoon affair at all. And, I assumed that was the best case scenario for the man that many conservatives, not to mention Republicans, believe blew a very winnable race against President Barack Obama.
I was very, very wrong.
The ballroom was full for his speech, the crowd greeted Romney with a hearty standing ovation and the clicks of their smartphone cameras. In fact, some remained standing throughout the entire address, which as one of my colleagues pointed out in a poignant tweet, reminded everyone of his concession speech on election night and moved away from his crass (and incorrect) comments since about how Obama bought off the electorate with government goodies.
If only delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., received Romney as enthusiastically as this year's CPAC crowd, maybe things might have been different for a GOP nominee that never seemed quite at home with the movement conservatives who fuel the party's grass-roots army until after the first presidential debate. But Friday, after losing an election that left conservatives stuck with Obama for another four years — and quite angry about that fact — Romney finally received the adulation he tried so hard to manufacture throughout his difficult Republican primary campaign and subsequent general election effort.
Perhaps one reason his climb was so difficult and ultimately unsuccessful was that voters never quite figured out who he was. But National Review's Robert Costa might have nailed it Friday when, following Romney's CPAC speech, he tweeted the following:
"Listen closely and you hear much about "America" and little abt GOP or conservatism. That has always been my read of how he sees things."