Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney entered the Values Voters Summit in DC Saturday like royalty, with the disco ball turning and patriotic music from the 2002 Olympics blasting from the speakers. It was a warm welcome from a group of Christian conservatives who largely prefer non-Mormon Bible-thumper Mike Huckabee as a presidential candidate. Watching Romney read his speech word for word from the teleprompters, it seemed clear that he had made a huge tactical error in picking a career. He still looks more like a TV president than Martin Sheen ever could.
Still, his speech garnered a lot more enthusiasm than that of say, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who also failed to stick to the protocol here of starting out with a Bible story. Romney decried out-of-wedlock births and rapped on White House czars. He had a few snappy one-liners. Repeating the GOP mantra on cap and trade, which he equated with a 15 percent income tax on all Americans, he quipped, "Democrats keep talking about climate change. I think they're confusing global warming with all the heat they've been taking at town halls."
After two days of such rhetoric, though, it was clear that the conservatives need to coordinate their jokes better. (And a pox on Nancy Pelosi for every referring to town hall participants as an "angry mob.") By noon Saturday, Romney was like the 18th speaker to invoke the mob reference. The conservatives were funnier dissing Tom DeLay's new ballroom dancing career, which has been a running gag this weekend.
Romney's speech wasn't helped by coming last in the lineup, behind Bill Bennett, a genuinely funny guy. His Mormon heritage really hurts him in the humor department. Having grown up in Utah, I know first-hand that Mormon humor is distinctly inside-baseball and, well, not very funny. (What do you call a burger that catches fire on the grill? A burnt offering, yuck yuck.) Romney's version of the town hall riff: "The Demorats call them a mob, crazies, trash—I call them patriots."
Failed humor aside, Romney made a solid showing to an appreciative crowd. Nonetheless, he's still likely to get killed in the straw poll. In 2007, he just edged out Huckabee, but that was largely because of Internet voting, which has since been banned as a result. This year's poll is strictly in-person. And if Romney can't win over the values voter foot soldiers, there's not much hope for him nationally. Maybe he has a future as Obama's Olympic czar. That's one offical White House job that the values voters might approve of.