The Victory Lap
Republicans suddenly love Mitt Romney—even if he sounds like a moderate governor from Massachusetts.
“Honestly, Mitt Romney could say anything and I’d say ‘Right on!’ ” said Sister Mary Nelle, a Catholic nun from Lakewood, Col. Back in February she had caucused for Newt Gingrich, against Romney; she wore a Rick Santorum sticker, honoring the guy who’d beaten Romney in those caucuses. “But I would take almost any alternative to the current officeholder.”
This was what Republicans were talking about months ago when they nominated Romney. He was “electable.” When they admitted that to exit pollsters, they were expecting a candidate who came off as moderate to win where, say, Rick Santorum couldn’t.
“I was hearing a little bit of angst last night,” said Larry O’Connor, a radio host and editor of Breitbart.tv. “Like, ‘Hang on, did Romney just say that regulation was necessary?’ But people have moved off of that today.”
Thus, the teleprompter jokes. Conservatives have always looked at Barack Obama as a flimsy creation of a biased media. The day before the debate, the conservative media obsessed over a 2007 video of the president speaking at a historically black college and talking about the role of race in the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. That speech had been covered by the “drive-by media,” as Rush Limbaugh calls it. But according to conservatives, the media had ignored Obama’s racialism in order to protect him. They pass around clips of Obama saying he’s visited “57 states” and mangling health care answers to point out that the guy is useless without a teleprompter. The day after the debate, they thanked Romney for proving them right.
“I was surprised at how poorly the president did,” said Richard Land, head of the social conservative Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, after wrapping up a panel on the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate. “I was a little stunned. He looked like a deer in the headlights.” Romney had been conservative enough for him. “He was attempting to be moderate in tone, but he was talking about defunding PBS, defunding Obamacare.”
But why did the president underperform? Land pointed at my chest as he answered. “The guy lives in cocoon of yes-men,” he said. “When he goes into one of his infrequent press conferences, people in your profession might as well bow down, because they never ask him tough questions.” A CPAC-goer chimed in—“Yes! Yes!”—then walked on.
It didn’t matter if Romney had sounded a few moderate notes. He exposed Barack Obama. For that, for the first time, all Republicans were proud of their nominee. Shortly after Rubio spoke, four of Romney’s sons appeared on the CPAC stage. The eldest, Tagg Romney, announced that another family member had arrived. Out came Mitt Romney, getting a 50-second long standing ovation.
“Last night, I thought, was a great opportunity for the American people to see two very different visions for the country,” said Romney.
As Romney spoke, not a single person sat down. The teleprompters stayed on the stage. He ignored them.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.