A 2012 Tryout: GOP Hopefuls Gather At Conservative Conference

Romney slams "Obama-style liberalism" as conservatives slam Dems, president.

September 17, 2010, 1:17 PM

Sept. 17, 2010 -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney accused the Obama administration Friday of committing an "assault on American values" and predicted that Democrats would pay dearly for it in November.

"One thing I know: America will repudiate Obama-style liberalism," Romney said at the annual Values Voters Summit in Washington, "and part of the reason for that is the abject failure of his first two years in office."

In a 20-minute stemwinder at the annual gathering of conservatives, Romney laced into the Obama administration for what he characterized as failures of all kinds -- from health care reform to the president's handling of the war in Afghanistan.

The former GOP presidential contender reserved some of his sharpest criticism for the White House's efforts on the economic front, asserting that "the administration has exploited the economic crisis instead of solving it."

"This president and his fellow travelers in Congress implemented the most anti-growth, anti-investment, anti-jobs measures we've seen in our lifetimes. He called it ambitious. I call it was reckless," Romney said. "He scared employers, so jobs are scarce. The uncertainty and lack of predictability that he created has caused businesses to shrink from spending and from hiring. He hasn't helped end the crisis, he made it deeper, longer and more painful."

Sounding every bit the presidential hopeful that he is likely to be in 2012, Romney said government "has declared war on free enterprise." The speech, in which he ridiculed "liberal values" and "counterfeit values," was easily Romney's harshest rebuke of Obama yet and it rallied a crowd friendly to his message.

The three-day conference, organized by the Family Research Council, opened Friday morning with appearances by some of the biggest names in conservative politics, including Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Reps. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. and Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.

Friday's agenda also included an eagerly-anticipated panel with newly-minted Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, as well as a prime-time speech by Fox News host Sean Hannity.

Other speakers told the summit audience that it was critical for Republicans to emphasize social issues between now and Election Day rather than shy away from them.

"You can't be a real fiscal conservative if you do not understand the value of a culture that's based on values," DeMint said.

It was a theme that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a perennial favorite at this event -- he won last year's straw poll -- picked up in his remarks.

"There are a lot of people who say this is not a year when we should be talking about social issues, value issues," Huckabee said, but he disagreed.

In fact, he went further, saying that many of the problems in this country, including the financial crisis, are the direct result of moral deficiencies in America.

Huckabee, the former Republican presidential contender who has been mentioned as a potential 2012 hopeful, mixed his speech with equal parts humor and political pronouncements -- as he often does.

"One of the criticisms is we have become the party of 'no,' Huckabee told the crowd. But, he said, that's wrong: "We are the party of 'know.'"

And he fit in other one-liners in his trademark style: "Government is not here to feed us, not here to lead us and it's certainly not here to bleed us."

But Huckabee was not joking when he laid the blame for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill right at Obama's feet: "It was not Tony Hayward's disaster," Huckabee said, referring to the former BP chairman. "It was his."

Tea Party darling Bachmann did not spare the Obama administration from criticism either, saying that the president had betrayed Americans and spent the last two years "trampling on the rights and values of the people."

She declared herself "giddy" at the prospect of revamping government with GOP electoral wins across the country this fall: "In November, the voter is going to speak again and this time I think they're going to shout."

Bachmann threaded her speech with a narrative of constitutional conservatism, references to the founding fathers and a lengthy and impassioned retelling of a story of American heroism during World War II that ended with a Bible passage.

She also lashed out against what she called the elitism of Washington where politicians make the rounds of "wine and cheese parties."

"I prefer tea parties," Bachmann said.

Her broader message, like that of other speakers on Friday, was decidedly anti-government. The pursuit of happiness, she said, is not a "license for hedonism."

"This is about individuals having the right to the fruit of their own labors," Bachmann said. "I know you realize this, but it bears repeating: The government doesn't create wealth. The government doesn't create money. We do."