SAN DIEGO -- Former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney spoke on Friday to a dinner crowd of several hundred party faithful gathered on the USS Midway aircraft carrier during the Republican National Committee's winter meeting in San Diego.
After spending a few minutes congratulating the party for its large gains in November's midterm elections -- a feat he helped secure by fundraising and appearing with countless candidates -- Romney acknowledged the elephant in the room.
"There's some speculation about whether I'm about to embark" on a campaign, Romney said. He joked, "Let me state unequivocally that I have no intention of running for U.S. senator of Massachusetts." The crowd met the remark with big laughs.
The possibility that Romney, who's twice mounted unsuccessful bids for the presidency, might decide launch a third bid in 2016 has loomed large over the RNC meeting in San Diego.
Romney's speech on the carrier (now a museum) lasted for about 12 minutes, and he then shook hands and posed for pictures with supporters for about 20 minutes afterwards.
He said the 2016 race "is not going to be about the Obama years, it's going to be about the post-Obama era." He said conservative principles will be needed more than ever after eight years of President Obama.
Then he laid out what can only be described as a presidential platform, though he called it "three principles I think should form part of the foundation" of any presidential bid: "First we have to make the world safer. Second, we have to make sure and provide opportunity for all Americans regardless of the neighborhood they live in. And finally, we have to lift people out of poverty."
If a Republican candidate sticks to those three principles, he said, "Americans will be with us."
On the first principle, Romney argued the "results of the Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama foreign policy have been devastating." The policies "crafted by him and Hillary Clinton," Romney said, "are based on the premise that if we're friendly enough to other people and smile broadly enough...peace will break out."
He said Mr. Obama and Clinton would have America "walk back from red lines...lead from behind...[carry] a small stick." He ticked through the world's hotspots: Libya, Iraq, Ukraine, Iran. "Terrorists are not on the run," he said. In a "post-Obama era," he argued, the next president will need to use economic and diplomatic strength to shape events around the world and "make the world safer for freedom."
On the second principle, he said "I believe we have to communicate that our principles will bring opportunity to every American." He said it was a "human tragedy" that the middle class doesn't believe the future will be better than the past. "Our policies are designed to create economic growth," he said, mentioning education, legal reform, job training, tax and regulatory reform, energy, limiting the size of government, and replacing and repealing Obamacare.
On the third principle, he said, "We're an abundant nation. We have the resources" to lift people out of poverty. He didn't say precisely how he would accomplish that without increasing the size of the government, but he argued that Mr. Obama's policies have not worked. "They work for a campaign, but they don't get the job done," he said. Only conservative principles like a focus on family formation and education, he added, would "end the scourge of poverty in this great land."
Among the governor's most well-received lines was a joke at the end of his speech about his 2016 deliberations and his wife Ann, who was with him and spoke briefly right before he did.
"Now I should tell you," he said, "that the last few days, the most frequently asked question I get is 'what does Ann think about all this?' And she believes people get better with experience," he said as the crowd laughed. "Heaven knows I have experience running for president!"
At one point, Romney seemed to acknowledge that, if he runs, he might not emerge victorious from a strong crowd of GOP candidates: "I'm giving some serious consideration to the future...and I can tell you this as well: regardless of what happens in the primaries and the political process that goes on, Ann Romney and I are going to be fighting for our nominee and make sure we win back the White House because the American people deserve it."}
His three-part platform likely went a long way toward answering one of the main questions we have heard from party officials here in San Diego: what would be different about a third Romney run? He ran in 2008, and was the party's nominee in 2012, but he's clearly spent time thinking about how he would craft a sharper message this time.
The platform is concise and easy to understand. His first principle about making the world safer enables him to relentlessly tie Hillary Clinton to foreign conflicts everywhere. And his third principle is aimed at at getting past his "47 percent" moment - while attempting to co-opt a cherished Democratic issue.
Romney aides who were at the event said they aren't sure what the next couple weeks hold in store, and they said they're "taking it day by day" right now.