Mitt Romney at CPAC: The big thing he didn't talk about

The possible GOP presidential candidate chided Obama's 'European-style' rule. But in Friday's speech at CPAC, Mitt Romney avoided a topic on which he may be vulnerable: health care.

Larry Downing/Reuters
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney smiles during the 38th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) meeting at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, on Feb. 11.

Romneycare? What Romneycare?

In his most-watched speech so far of the embryonic 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney didn’t breathe a word about the signature initiative of his term as governor of Massachusetts: the reform of that state’s health-care system that includes an individual mandate to purchase insurance.

And, in his address Friday morning to the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, former Governor Romney barely touched on President Obama’s health-care reform, which was modeled on the Massachusetts reform – and, for most Republicans, is a major reason to oppose the president.

Shaking up 2012: US senators who aren't running for reelection

Romney sneaked in a reference to health care in a larger critique of Mr. Obama’s “European-style” rule. But that was it for the speech.

“With our economy in crisis, the president and his fellow liberals turned to Europe for their answers,” Romney said. “Like the Europeans, they grew government, they racked up bigger deficits, they took over health care, they pushed cap and trade, they stalled production of our oil and gas and coal, they fought to impose unions on all America’s workers, and they created over a hundred new agencies and commissions and hundreds of thousands of pages of new regulations.”

On health care, Romney still has some ‘splaining to do. Maybe CPAC wasn’t the time or place for that. And as a top-tier all-but-announced contender for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, Romney faces other hurdles, his wooden style chief among them. But he was the runner-up to John McCain in 2008, and with his personal wealth, big attractive family, fundraising and organizational skill, and business savvy, he can still make a strong case that he’s the best one to challenge Obama, especially if the economy remains weak.

“Let me make this very clear,” Romney said. “If I decide to run for president, it sure wouldn’t take me two years to wake up to the job crisis threatening America. And I won’t be asking [Treasury Secretary] Tim Geithner how the economy works – or [former top economic adviser] Larry Summers how to start a business. I know.”

Romney’s speech was short on policy proposals and long on Obama-bashing, with a big helping of snide.

“The president went from 'Change you can believe in' to 'Can you believe this change?' ” Romney said of Obama’s recent State of the Union address. “He sounded like he was going to dig up the first lady’s organic garden to put in a Bob’s Big Boy.”

There was also a lot of talk of American exceptionalism and greatness.

“I refuse to believe that America is just another place on the map with a flag,” Romney said. “I believe that America is an exceptional nation, of freedom and opportunity and hope. We are an exceptional land.”

Unfortunately for Romney, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was on the verge of resigning and thus dominating cable news, not CPAC. But inside the Marriott Wardman, a few miles from the White House, Romney was well-received. Now he can sit back and see who wins the CPAC presidential straw poll. Romney won in 2007, 2008, and 2009 – and in fact, used his 2008 CPAC appearance to drop out of the presidential race.

Last year, the winner was Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas, the libertarian favorite. He won handily with 31 percent of the vote, followed distantly, in order, by Romney, Sarah Palin, and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota (who addresses CPAC at 1:30 p.m. EST on Friday, and is also an all-but-announced candidate for 2012). If Congressman Paul wins again, it will show that he did an excellent job (again) of getting his supporters to come to CPAC. But if Romney wins, it could mean something.

Shaking up 2012: US senators who aren't running for reelection

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