Mitt Romney returned to the presidential spotlight Friday with a campaign-style speech to Republican insiders, spelling out the framework for a possible third try for the White House.
“In the post-Obama era, we need to stand for safety and for opportunity for all people regardless of the neighborhood they come from. And we have to stand for helping lift people out of poverty,” he said with his wife, Ann, at his side.
It was Romney’s first public appearance since he signaled a week ago he’s looking into a 2016 bid. He not say whether he will run, but did acknowledge he is looking at jumping into what could be a crowded field competing for the Republican nomination.
“The last few days, the most frequently asked question I get is what does Ann think about all this,” he said. “She believes people get better with experience. And heaven knows I have experience running for president. ... I’m giving some serious consideration to the future.”
He sought the nomination and lost in 2008, won the nomination and lost the general election in 2012 to President Barack Obama.
While insisting the next election will not be about Obama, who will leave office after two terms, Romney criticized the incumbent’s record abroad and at home, and tore into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a likely Democratic candidate for 2016.
“The world is not safer six years after Barack Obama has been in office. There’s no question about that,” Romney said. “The foreign policy was one that was crafted by him and his secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
Romney was the fourth potential presidential candidate to speak to the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting. Earlier Friday, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas stirred the crowd with a call for a more muscular American foreign policy, mostly by undoing what he called the Obama administration’s missteps and weaknesses.
Thursday, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin had sharp criticism on Thursday for Clinton, who has a big lead among possible Democratic contenders. Earlier, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson talked about shrinking the size of government, and drew controversy with seemingly positive comments about the Islamic State.
Perry’s chief emphasis was on foreign policy and national security, useful themes as polls show Americans increasingly concerned by the threat of terrorism, especially since the attacks in France.
Noting that no high-level administration official went to a unity rally in Paris, Perry said, “The president of the United States needs to be there and he needs to be standing in the front row.” The White House has said it should have sent a top official to the rally.
Perry offered tough talk on Iraq and Syria, saying the White House’s policies were not effectively deterring terrorists. “They only respect power and force,” he said.
Notably, Perry criticized Obama for withdrawing troops, but he did not propose sending U.S. troops into Iraq or Syria in addition to the Obama-ordered airstrikes already underway.
The governor summarized his views with a broad complaint. “Are we going to accept the decline of western civilization because those who had the most to lose did the least to preserve freedom?” he asked.
On Thursday, Carson also drew the conflict in broad terms, contrasting the Islamic State to the United States. “They’re willing to die for what they believe in,”: he said, “while we are busily giving away every belief and every value for the sake of political correctness.”
While the party brass applauded their former nominee Friday, conservatives have been harshly criticizing him. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Romney represented the “mushy middle,” and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said another Romney run is “the definition of insanity.”
RNC members offered similar doubts. “It will be a challenge to get another bite of the apple,” said Henry Barbour, Mississippi national committeeman. “There’s a natural tendency to look at the next generation of leaders.”
Romney backers are quietly talking him up with this logic: He got 47 percent of the popular vote in 2012. He now tops President Barack Obama in most polls, and his path to the nomination is smoother than most.
The backers explain that Romney retains a strong base of support in Iowa, the nation’s first caucus state, where he’s competed twice. He won New Hampshire’s primary last time and that support, they say, hasn’t eroded.
The Romney camp adds that he’s well positioned for what could be as many as 20 primaries and caucuses on March 1, since he can raise a lot of money and has plenty of his own to contribute.
The problem with that explanation is that the donor community is unsure where to turn, and it’s unclear if loyal 2012 voters want another Romney run.
The prevailing mood here is largely wait and see. Asked if Romney would be a strong candidate, West Virginia Chairman Conrad Lucas said, “We support the Republican candidate.” He wouldn’t go any further.