Romney at CPAC: My record is "severely conservative"

Not a gamechanger but not a bad speech either. If you like him, this will do nothing to dissuade you; if you don’t, this won’t change your mind; and if you’re undecided, you’re still undecided despite him dropping the word “conservative” into virtually every other sentence. (According to WaPo, a Republican strategist advised him recently to include more “conservative code words” in his rhetoric. The first conservative code word deployed: “Conservative,” of course.) His best moment here, I think, comes at 9:00 when he defends his work at Bain, but the takeaway line emerges at 14:15 when he describes himself — the architect of RomneyCare, remember — as having been … a “severely conservative Republican governor.” The awkwardness of that phrase is Romney’s whole candidacy in a nutshell. The word “severely” is almost always used colloquially in a pejorative or clinical sense (“severely unhappy,” “severely handicapped”), yet he’s using it here in a boastful way, as if to say that he can be as strident and unreasonable as he thinks the crowd needs him to be to give them comfort on his ideological bona fides as nominee. I go back and forth between being annoyed that a guy as intelligent as he is can’t even fake his identification with the right more effectively and feeling sympathy for him that he can’t connect with his audience on a gut level. That’s a tremendous retail disability for a politician and it must cause Romney no little agony, but he limps on towards the nomination regardless. If he ends up winning in spite of it, even with all his other advantages it’ll be an achievement.

Anyway, interesting to see shades of Mitt 2008 here touting his record on social conservatism. That’s proof positive of how worried he is about Santorum, especially as the backlash to the new HHS contraception rule picks up. Gingrich is speaking as I write this in the day’s other potential gamechanger. Stay tuned for that video in an hour or so.

Update: Rush Limbaugh: “I have never heard anybody say, ‘I’m severely conservative. No, I’ve never heard anybody SAY it.”

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