— -- ABOARD THE USS MIDWAY--Joking that appearing before members of the Republican National Committee felt like a “high school reunion,” Romney made clear what his camp began hinting at last week: he’s really thinking about a third run for president.
“I’m giving some serious consideration to the future,” Romney said, taking the stage at the last-night dinner of the RNC’s winter meeting aboard the hulking aircraft carrier.
If the RNC meeting was a high school reunion, Romney seemed like a senior returning in the fall after a particularly difficult summer, eager to reinvent himself as a candidate of the future, a foreign policy sage and populist.
“For our party and for the nation, 2016 is not going to be about the Obama years. It’s going to be about the post-Obama era. And in the post-Obama era, conservative principles are needed as perhaps never before during our lifetime," he said.
Some of Romney’s toughest criticism of Obama was over his foreign policy – fitting given that the president’s former secretary of state could be the top contender for the Democratic nomination.
“The results of the Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama foreign policy has been devastating,” Romney said, mentioning the terrorist attacks in Paris, the ongoing threat of Islamist extremists in the Middle East and the Boko Haram massacres in Nigeria.
But he had a small slip-up when he accidentally said that “Liberia is in disarray,” immediately correcting himself to say that, in fact, “Libya” is in disarray (although one could argue they both are).
And what may have stood out to close followers of Romney’s 2012 campaign was a new-sounding populist note. He introduced three “pillars,” which could double easily as a campaign mission statement: national security, opportunity for all and eradicating poverty - a far cry from his last campaign where he was heard making the infamous “47 percent” remark.
“The only policies that will reach into the hearts of the American people and pull people out of poverty and break the cycle of poverty are Republican principles, conservative principles,” he said, calling the poverty rate in America a “human tragedy.”
Romney also spoke about the work he does in his Mormon church, something that was a rare topic in 2012, as his strategists warned that talking about Mormonism at length might alienate some voters. He segued to the topic by talking about how his wife Ann, who became a campaign trail fixture, "knows my heart."
"She’s seen me not just as a business guy and a political guy, but for over ten years, as you know I served as a pastor for a congregation and for groups of congregations. So she’s seen me work with people who are very poor and need assistance."
The meeting that Romney’s remarks concluded featured RNC members from around the country working on administrative business like number of candidates’ debates (there will be up to twelve) and the re-election of national officials.
The members here also heard from potential 2016 hopefuls Dr. Ben Carson, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and many expressed more enthusiasm about those prospective candidates than they did about Romney. The prevailing attitude about the former Massachusetts governor was that he might be an accomplished leader and good man, but that maybe he should step aside to let other new candidates run.
Despite the diplomatic niceties heard in the halls of the Hotel Del Coronado, where the RNC meeting took place, some Romney 2012 supporters in fundraising hubs like New York reacted to news of his considering a bid by saying they would jump right on board.
Romney spoke at Friday night’s more casual dinner, as opposed to the marquee spots that Walker and Perry got, speaking before dinner and lunch crowds respectively. A live band with women in glittering gowns performed before he took the stage and attendees milled about drinking cocktails and helping themselves to food at carving stations.
But the more relaxed setting was perhaps a more inviting format for Romney to re-introduce himself to the GOP establishment, given that he’s kept a low public profile since losing the 2012 general election to Barack Obama.
As soon as Romney left the stage and did a few minutes of shaking hands, the band struck up again with “Celebrate Good Times” and RNC members took to the dance floor.