Katherine Mangu-Ward blogged the news of Mitt's exit, and grabbed some of the sillier bits of the speech. I was in a fairly muted overflow room (most of them had heard the news before they entered) but Marc Ambinder was there:
"I must now stand aside, for our party and our country," Romney said. "If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win."
Romney supporters began to boo. Others shouted, "No!" At least one woman shouted, loudly, "Why?"
"And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror," he said.
More crowd noise: "No!" and "Oh no"
"This is not an easy decision for me. I hate to lose. My family, my friends and our supporters… many of you right here in this room… have given a great deal to get me where I have a shot at becoming President. If this were only about me, I would go on. But I entered this race because I love America, and because I love America. This has never been about me."
The crowd: "Come on! No!"
I saw what came next: old women, young women, young men ranging from the obese to the morbidly obese, streaming out of the ballroom biting their lips and choking back tears. The harder they cried, the more reporters swarmed them. I was standing next to a few friends from Ohio who saw another friend walk by.
"What are you going to do now?"
"I'm gonna, I guess, have lunch. Mourn the demise of my Republican party!"
Romney actually promised to return to CPAC for "many years to come," but all you need to look at are the T-shirts and signs around the hotel. Last year, when Romney was buying the straw poll, they were clogged with winged Romney logos. This year it's a sea of McCainiacs. People grasp their Romney signs and Mitt "mitts" like chunks of the Berlin Wall, bemused, a little bored.
There will be precious little lasting love for Romney on the new right, and this is as it should be. Romney believed in nothing but what a good president Mitt Romney would make. He promised conservatives that he would reboot the Bush era, and even today he whined that our soldiers were so, so brave "but their numbered have been reduced by the Clinton years!" The Clinton presidency promised a peace dividend: "We got the dividend, but we didn't get the peace!" It made as much sense as his excuse for ducking of the race: Yeah, Reagan had battled to the end against Gerald Ford, but "there is a difference between today and 1976. We are a nation at war." But if there was no cold war, why should Clinton have kept military spending so high. Forget it, it's Mitt Romney. It's not supposed to make sense.
I've always thought highly of citizen Mitt Romney, but as a candidate for the White House he was a demagogue and, just as often, a buffoon. Four years from now the people wetting their eyes about this race will have glommed onto someone more credible in his panders.