In what may have been the first stump speech of the his 2012 presidential campaign, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney steered clear of mentioning health care reform -- neither President Barack Obama's landmark overhaul law nor his own state's health care system implemented under his watch. Instead, the Republican front-runner used the opportunity to kick-off an extensive critique of President Barack Obama.
During his address Friday morning to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), former Gov. Romney barely touched on Obama's controversial law -- the subject of legal contention between the federal government and at least 26 states which have pledged to take the battle all the way to the Supreme Court. For most Republicans, ObamaCare is a major reason to oppose the president's re-election in 2012, so it's not surprising that Romney instead chose to address Obama's handling of the national economy and foreign policy.
“The president went from 'Change you can believe in' to 'Can you believe this change?'” he said.
Romney told the captive conservative audience that President Obama has stood watch over "the greatest job loss in modern American history." He also wasted little time in distancing himself from other potential 2012 Republican contenders.
Romney supporters were actively working to paint him as the "anti-Palin," a viable alternative to the GOP's former vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin. "Intelligence versus not-so-intelligent," said Ken Merritt, a Romney supporter with Alaskan. "Fluff versus not about fluff ... [Palin] does a great show on TV, though," Merritt told the Huffington Post.
"I would much rather have him than Palin," Bradley Gunther, a student at the University of Delaware, added. "I think she is a good spokesperson for the conservative movement. She's like Howard Dean for the Democrats: she gets people fired up but can't win an election."
"It's going to take more than new rhetoric to put Americans back to work. It's going to take a new president," Romney declared Friday.
"Let me make this very clear. If I decide to run for president, it won't take me two years to wake up to the job crisis threatening America," he remarked, highlighting his background in business.
Romney unabashedly criticized what he described as Obama's "European-style" rule.
“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.”
Additionally, Romney knocked the Nobel Prize-winning Obama for failing to manage contentious U.S. relations with rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. He also condemned Obama's latest foreign policy achievement -- a nuclear arms treaty with Russia -- for weakening Washington while favoring Moscow.
"I surely hope that at some point in the near future, the president will finally be able to construct a foreign policy, any foreign policy," Romney joked.
“I refuse to believe that America is just another place on the map with a flag," he said. "I believe that America is an exceptional nation, of freedom and opportunity and hope. We are an exceptional land."
In avoiding addressing controversial topics like health care, Romney made it clear that his strategy going into the 2012 campaign season is to focus on the future rather than dwelling on the past. But it's unclear whether voters will be so willing to overlook Romney's past policy decisions.
Video of Gov. Romney's complete remarks available here.