Mitt Romney, CPAC Rock Star
February 10, 2012 - 5:34pm ET
I have to admit, for a progressive being at CPAC can feel like being a "stranger in a strange land." For a black, gay progressive it's a bit like being dropped on another planet, with almost no breathable atmosphere; a very lonely, claustrophobic place. It's hard to feel otherwise, when you're surrounded by people extolling a vision of American with no place for you in it. (I never thought I'd say this, but I actually miss GOProud. On the plus side, I got a party invite from gay, Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger.) The lack of oxygen makes you lightheaded. The isolation, in the midst of the crowd, plays tricks with the mind.
Maybe that's why, before I left for lunch, I thought Rick Santorum was CPAC's rock star this year. Obviously I need air. I returned from lunch with a clear head. As I fought my way to the media room, through the capacity-crowd lined up for Romney's speech, past those being directed to the overflow rooms, to watch Romney speak via closed-circuit-television, I realized who the CPAC 2012 rock star really is. The fresh air not only cleared my head, but reminded me of what I already knew about conservatives and the Republican party.
What I forgot was that conservatives excel at something progressives don't: walking in lock step. Their ability to organize their troops and keep them on message is legendary for a reason. If you've been in Washington for very long, you've seen it in action and you've seen it work frighteningly well.
The joke that organizing progressives like herding cats is really only a half-joke. (Don't believe me, try getting a room full of us to reach consensus on so much as pizza toppings. It's probably the one quality of conservatives that progressive envy. Sure, they're marching backwards in lock-step, but they're doing it together.
Sure, they've had the obstreperousness of the tea party to deal with, but they're a lot less trouble lately. (I was a bit surprise and amused, though, when my "Media" caught the eye of a Virginia tea party who slipped me his card, and advised me to give him a call because he "knows where the bodies are buried," and if he doesn't know where all of them are buried, he knows the guys who do — because they're the ones who buried them. I gave him my best "smile-and-nod" until he departed.)
If there were no Mitt Romney signs or stickers visible at CPAC yesterday, they appeared in force before Romney took to the stage. And while I haven't seen many since, their appearance at right moment, along with the overflow crowd for Romney's speech, had me slightly in awe of the organizing effort, and even the ability of the crowd to rouse itself to a kind of "Oh well, if we have to," embrace of Romney.
I'll return to Romney's speech in more detail later, but there are a couple of things that were clear to me by the time he finished.
Conservatives up to now have remained unconvinced that Mitt Romney is conservative enough to represent them. That's important, because the far right wing of the Republican party isn't just the far right wing of the Republican party anymore. The far right wing of the Republican party is the Republican party now.
I ignored much of what Ann Coulter had to say when she spoke today, as I do when she says anything. But I was still under the influence of the fresh air from lunch when she said something I found myself actually agreeing with. "We won!" she told CPACers. "Folks, we won. There are no Rockefeller Republicans anymore! Conservatives won that fight." She didn't rattle off the list of reasonable Republicans who have either left or been run out of the party, but she could have.
As the victors, conservatives may be willing to settle for Romney if he's the only alternative to Barack Obama — which says more about how much they' dislike Obama than about any embrace of Romney — but the victories they've handed to Gingrich and Santorum in the GOP primaries so far make it clear that conservatives have set the terms for their resignation to Romney's candidacy. (Coulter's "Let's try square for a while," summed up conservatives enthusiasm for Romney.)
David Brooks may be right (and I may need get some fresh air, again). Mitt Romney is trying his best to be a crowd pleaser, trying to be all things to all conservatives. At CPAC he gave it his best shot yet.
Mitt Romney is going to deflect concerns over his Mormon heritage by going all "culture warrior" on gay people. I'll address the economic aspects of Romney's speech in a later post. The economy seems to be taking a back seat the culture war at CPAC 2012 anyway. Thus Mitt Romney is morphing himself into the ultimate culture warrior.
Since I'm covering CPAC as a member of the media, I've tried to keep myself out the "story." I've observed and listened, without offering my own views or much else about myself. The result is that sometimes I think CPACers mistake me for a member of the tribe.
There were only a couple of times I came close to giving myself away. When Foster Friess, Chairman of Friess Associates, said in his introduction of Rick Santorum that Santorum "never says anything divisive," I stifled a snort. I guess comparing parents like me to felons, and saying that families like min "don't contribute to society" doesn't count as divisive. When Rick Santorum himself said that conservatives truly embrace the idea that "all men are created equal," I couldn't help but snort.
Still, I was surprised I expected to hear a lot of fulminating against marriage equality at CPAC, and I became inured to it in advance. I heard little, compared to the the nearly constant anti-contraception rhetoric. What little I did hear, I let wash over me.
Then Mitt Romney took to the stage. After he finished promising to restore the Mexico City policy, cut off money for the United Nations Population Fund, de-fund Planned Parenthood, and reverse every Obama policy on contraception, Mitt brought it on home.
And in doing so he brought home the reality that nothing wins a candidate right-wing love like queer bashing. Romney delivered the longest, loudest screed against the 9th circuit ruling on California's Proposition 8 that I've heard during my entire time at CPAC. When he finished there, launched in the a recitation of his opposition to same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, and all he did to stop it. He sounded for all the world like a job applicant reciting his resume.
Romney ended that screed by tell the audience, "I was a severely conservative Republican governor." Point made?
I understand why he did it. See, Romney mentioned again that his father was born in Mexico. When he spoke of his family history he told the audience that his mother's father "came from England" and his father's father "moved to Mexico."
But didn't mention why his grandfather moved to Mexico.
The Romneys can trace the family history to 1555, where they have records of a Mr. Romney, no first name, born in 1555 in the town of Tonbridge, England. The Mexican roots are intertwined with their Mormon faith.
The candidate's great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, was born in 1843 in Nauvoo, Ill., where Joseph Smith founded the Mormon church. Miles Park Romney had five wives and 30 children, and fled to Mexico after passage of the 1882 Edmunson Act that barred polygamy. Among the first Mormons to settle in to the rolling Mexican valley bordering Texas, Miles Park Romney married his fifth wife after the church banned the practice in 1890.
Among the 11 children borne by Miles Park Romney's first wife were brothers Gaskell and Miles Archibold Romney.
The family fled back to the U.S. in 1912, when the Mexican Revolution struck Chihuahua and revolutionary forces invaded the English-speaking communities.
Gaskell Romney stayed in the U.S., with his five children, including Mitt's father, George.
As a fellow Mormon pointed out, Romney really should know better.
As a Mormon, gay rights advocate and Californian, my corner of the internet exploded on Tuesday morning when news broke that a federal appeals court ruled Proposition 8, the California proposition that removed the right to marry from gays and lesbians, unconstitutional. My gay friends and their allies rejoiced as we talked about weddings we looked forward to attending, and many of my Latter Day Saint friends and ward members mourned a loss to their cause. The church reacted to the decision with a press release that called for civility, and included the curious statement, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regrets today's decision. California voters have twice determined in a general election that marriage should be recognised as only between a man and a woman. We have always had that view."
Anyone with a bare knowledge of Mormon history would know that's simply not true. This one statement encapsulates the bitter irony surrounding this long battle: that a religious group known for its history of polygamy would be the group bearing the standard for "traditional marriage".
...Mormon pioneers crossed the American plains to escape the religious persecution they faced, in part because of their views on marriage. They were prepared to fight a war to keep the government from restricting their ability to marry as they saw fit. It is far past time we remembered our history and stopped doing to others what we fought so hard against having done to us.
Mitt, of course, can't go there. He may be comfortable around gay people, but his Mormonism makes evangelicals nervous. So, he's trying to please the wingers and appear just conservative enough to get the nomination.
Just in case anyone thinks he's not anti-gay enough, Mitt is working it hard. Overtime. As I was writing this post, another CPACer slipped me this flyer.
The front bears a quote from Maggie Gallagher, of the Institute for Marriage, saying that Romney is "making the single most eloquent defense of our understanding of marriage I have heard from an American politician." Quotes on the back from conservatives ranging from Robert Bork to Jim DeMint, and Chris Christie say much the same.
After his speech Mitt walked into the crowd and started shaking hands as CPACers reached our for him. I think he almost had them convinced. Maybe they almost had me convinced that he had them convinced.
Maybe I just need to get some fresh air. Again.
Maybe I will. Right after Newt speaks.
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