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From Romney, Red Meat And A Defense Of Bush

Gov. Mitt Romney (R), the first of several potential presidential hopefuls to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, not surprisingly delivered a series of attacks on the Obama presidency just over one year in. What was something of a surprise -- even to the audience that eagerly listened to him -- was his defense of former President George W. Bush.

"I am convinced that history will judge President Bush far more kindly. He pulled us from a deepening recession following the attack of 9-11, he overcame teachers unions to test school children and evaluate schools, he took down the Taliban, waged a war against the jihadists and was not afraid to call it what it is--a war, and he kept us safe. I respect his silence even in the face of the assaults on his record that come from this administration. But at the same time, I also respect the loyalty and indefatigable defense of truth that comes from our "I don't give a damn" Vice President Dick Cheney!"

Romney's comment about Bush received just polite applause among a group that has some reservations about his record on a series of issues. The closing praise for Cheney, who had just made a surprise appearance, was met much more enthusiastically.

Romney invoked Bush as he discussed something he called a true test of an individual: how one responds to defeats. After losses in 2008 -- including , but unmentioned, Romney's bid for the GOP nomination -- the GOP "didn't serve up excuses or blame our fellow citizens," the former Massachusetts governor said.

"Instead we listened carefully to the American people, we sharpened our thinking and our arguments, we spoke with greater persuasiveness, we took our message to journals and airwaves across the country. And in the great American tradition, some even brought attention to our cause with rallies and tea parties," he said.

But after President Obama suffered defeats, both of his agenda and of fellow Democrats, the administration and his party have responded by blaming others. Romney mentioned Obama's criticism of the Supreme Court, of Republicans in Congress, of Bush, and even, he said, the American people themselves.

"It seems that we have failed to understand his wise plans for us," Romney said sarcastically. "If he just slows down, he reasons, and makes a concerted effort to explain Obama-care in a way even we can understand, if we just listen better, then we will get it."

Americans have listened, he argued, and have seen a president break his promises on transparency, on bringing a new kind of politics to DC, and on ending the influence of special interests.

"No, Mr. President, the American people didn't hear and see too little, they saw too much!" Romney charged.

Romney's speech was peppered with one-liners and red meat for the crowd. Referring to his recent trip to the Olympics, he joked that Lindsey Vonn was stripped of her gold medal in the downhill because "it was determined that President Obama has been going downhill faster." Referring to Obama giving himself a B+ for his first year, Romney said that "will go down as the biggest exaggeration since Al Gore's invention of the Internet." And as Obama "pins the blame" on everyone but him, he offered this rejoinder: "When it comes to pinning blame, pin the tail on the donkeys!"

As Romney courts a powerful constituency in his likely bid for the White House, he came armed with his own special guest: Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA). Brown gushed over his state's former governor, saying he played a major role in his victory. And he perhaps tested a slogan for Romney 2.0.

"If you want to fix something that's broken, especially dealing with economic policies, you have to listen to Governor Mitt Romney," Brown said. Later, he added: "He really means it when he says he's committed to rebuilding the Republican Party."