BY ZACH TOOMBS
It’s a virtual who’s who of conservative activists — from Mike Huckabee to Ann Coulter to Chuck Norris. And, on Friday, GOP presidential hopefuls made their best attempt to woo those potential supporters at CPAC — the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
Speaking on his record as Massachusetts’ governor, Mitt Romney grabbed early unwanted headlines with this ad-libbed comment.
“I was a severely conservative Republican governor.”
Rachel Maddow’s mocking reaction mirrored that of many others:
“Mitt Romney: Not just conservative, but severely conservative.”
And from the other end of the spectrum, Rush Limbaugh was left puzzled as well...
“I have never heard anybody say ‘I’m severely conservative.’ ”
Nitpicky? POLITICO says “maybe,” but:
“...by going off-script to use an awkward modifier that no movement conservative would ever affix to themselves, he made clear why, despite vast advantages in money and organization, he’s still struggling to win the trust of a party base needed to secure the GOP presidential nomination. He’s just not a natural fit.”
And while Romney touted his conservative highlight reel, Rick Santorum made the case for hardline right-wing politics — an ideology he says is better fit to beat President Obama in November than John McCain’s relatively middle-of-the-road approach in 2008.
“Well, I think we have learned our lesson. And the lesson we’ve learned is that we will no longer abandon and apologize for the policies and principles that have made this country great for a hollow victory in November.”
Friday was a good day for Santorum: for the first time, a national poll from Public Policy Polling ranked him ahead of Romney. And his speech at CPAC drew nearly unanimous praise in conservative circles.
The Washington Times writes:
“Santorum's address was not a red vs. blue cheerleader pep rally meant to make Republicans feel good about their brand. Instead it was an adult conversation with conservatives about the future of their movement.”
Predictably, it was Gingrich who provided the longest — and, for many, the most volatile — speech among the candidates. The former House Speaker not only took aim at Democrats but he also called out GOP insiders.
“We need to teach the Republican establishment a lesson. We are determined to rebuild America, not to manage its decay."
Gingrich also used the occasion to roll out his new Conservative Dream Team of supporters. A page dedicated to the team appeared on his website Friday, along with this:
A photo of Gingrich and company that The Hill said looked like “an ad for a law firm” — with Rick Perry, Herman Cain and even the Texas Ranger himself filling in as partners.
Another GOP presidential hopeful, Ron Paul, skipped CPAC this year. Instead, the candidate focused on some last-minute campaigning in Maine.