At a gathering for conservatives to plot their future, there was a stark reminder of the past on Friday as failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney made his first public speech since election night.
“I am sorry that I won’t be your president,” Romney told the audience of the Conservative Political Action Conference, “but I will be your co-worker and I will stand shoulder to shoulder beside you.”
Since he accepted defeat to President Barack Obama in the early hours of the morning on November 7 in Boston, Romney has largely vanished from view. He is occasionally spotted pumping gas or shopping at Costco.
He and his wife Ann have retired to La Jolla, California, where the Romney family keeps a home, although they did give an interview to Fox News last month.
The former Massachusetts governor was the first losing presidential candidate in nearly 25 years not to be in Washington on Inauguration Day.
“As someone who just lost the last election, I’m probably not the best person to chart the course for the next election,” he said.
Romney has never had a simple relationship with the conservative base, which always suspected he was too moderate on healthcare, and other issues.
In past years, Romney won the conference’s straw poll for preferred presidential candidate, but audiences like CPAC are often filled with the sort of Republicans who were most suspicious of his conservative credentials.
Appearing at the same event last year, Romney declared himself to be “severely conservative.” That strained formulation did not warm conservatives’ hearts and led to ridicule from some in the media.
For many gathered at a hotel here south of Washington, the lesson from Romney’s loss is a simple one: Republicans nominated a candidate who wasn’t conservative enough.
On Thursday, Texas Governor Rick Perry, once Romney’s rival in the presidential primary, told the crowd: “The popular media narrative is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideas, as evidence by the last two presidential elections. That’s what they think, that’s what they say. That might be true if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012.”
“The fact is the base didn’t come out for him,” said Bob Vander Plaats, the president of the Family Leader and a prominent social conservative in the early-voting state of Iowa. “No matter how much we did to push our base towards him, that was a hard rope to push.”
Romney was received warmly by the audience and the former candidate thanked them for their “earnest support.”