Mitt Romney, Super-Duper Conservative
Mitt Romney knows how to sell a client on his services. He did it countless times as a business consultant and the head of the private equity firm Bain. Romney's business partners have told me that one of Romney's greatest strengths was delivering delicate messages to potentially difficult partners and clients. As his Bain colleage Eric Kriss told The New York Times in 2007, "Mitt ran a private equity firm, not a cement company…He was not a businessman in the sense of running a company. He was a great presenter, a great spokesman, and a great salesman."
Today, his job was to sell his conservative credentials to wary activists and attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. And although he wasn't great, he was pretty good. His over-capacity main stage speech this afternoon probably didn't seal the deal with conservatives, but I doubt it scared anyone away: Romney portrayed the coming election as a "fight for America" and said that now is "a time to reaffirm what it means to be conservative." He insisted on the inherent conservatism of his career and family background, touted selected elements of his record, and made vague promises to cut government spending, and declared his willingness to get rid of ObamaCare—without once mentioning the near-replica health care law he signed as governor of Massachusetts. "I know conservatism," he said, "because I have lived conservatism." In other words, he told the audience more or less what it wanted to hear.
Will that be enough? Romney still has the most plausible path to the nomination, but it remains hard to make any prediction with great confidence. A new survey from Public Policy Polling shows that Santorum has taken a lead nationally. Here at CPAC, people started lining for a small-space Santorum meet-and-greet at least two hours early; by the time it was scheduled to start it stretched hundreds deep. Nearly every person in line had skipped Romney's speech to wait in a long line for a chance to hear Santorum.
Read my cover feature on Romney from Reason's March issue.