Rick Perry at CPAC: How can the last two elections be a rejection of conservatism when we didn't nominate conservatives?

Via Ace, skip to 17:00 for the money line. Judging from Drudge, against all odds on a day when both Rubio and Paul spoke, Perry seems to have walked away with the killer soundbite from CPAC. I don’t buy his argument, though. Obama won in 2008 because the public was exhausted with Bush and he represented something wholly fresh and new. He synthesized a particular political and cultural moment uniquely in my memory of presidential campaigns. (I don’t remember Reagan ’80.) A more conservative, or merely more capable, candidate than McCain might have won a few more electoral votes but there’s no reason realistically to think he would have been granted a four-year extension of Republican rule given Dubya’s rock-bottom approval ratings.

Romney is a tougher case because Obama no longer had the Hopenchange mojo working for him in 2012 and had 7.8 percent unemployment hanging over his head. Does anyone think, though, that Romney lost because of RomneyCare and because once upon a time he was pro-choice? He worked hard to position himself as a conservative, especially on immigration and on spending, which is why he put one of the most famous deficit hawks in Congress on the ticket. I think he lost not because he was obviously masquerading as a conservative (although he was) but because of poor retail skills, a poisonous image as an aloof aristocrat who couldn’t relate to the middle class, effective attacks from O (the “war on women” nonsense), an organization that was inferior to Obama’s in important ways, and, strange as it may seem, the fact that the economy was just good enough to make Obama the favorite. The better question here is why Republican primary voters keep nominating candidates like McCain and Romney who are so disdained by the base. Forget whether general election voters would vote for a conservative Republican over Obama if they had the chance. GOP primary voters do have a chance every four years to vote for a conservative. They haven’t done it for two election cycles now. Why not? I’m asking earnestly. I have no answer.

Keep watching after the soundbite for Perry’s impassioned pitch that the GOP can win Latinos over, with Texas as an example. He makes a compelling case, but do note: This is a guy who, despite his long history of electoral success, couldn’t crack 40 percent of the Latino vote in his home state in a year when he won reelection with 55 percent overall. If a candidate as conservative as Perry on electoral terrain as favorable as Texas can’t do better than that, what does a national candidate have to do to improve on it?