"Because I love America ... I have to now stand aside"

Mitt Romney tells attendees at a conservative conference that he's getting out of the presidential race in order to support the "war on terror."

Published February 7, 2008 7:10PM (EST)

Those in the audience to hear Mitt Romney's concession speech Thursday -- seemingly, even radio host Laura Ingraham, who introduced him -- didn't know what was coming. Neither, reportedly, did some of Romney's campaign staff.

And if you were one of the people there, listening to a speech larded with red meat for the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference, you could be forgiven for not seeing the train barreling down. Romney was supposed to be the star of the show, the candidate anointed by conservative heavyweights, while conference organizers had to ask attendees not to boo his main opponent, John McCain.

In the early parts of his speech, Romney showed why he has been embraced by conservatives, making his main points a scathing denunciation of the evils of and ills caused by liberalism. (He even threw in a joke about how calling a Harvard professor a liberal is redundant.)

"The threat to our culture comes from within. The 1960s welfare programs created a culture of poverty. Some think we won that battle when we reformed welfare, but the liberals haven't given up. At every turn, they try to substitute government largess for individual responsibility ... Dependency is a culture-killing drug -- we have got to fight it like the poison it is," Romney said, to wild cheers.

But he wasn't done excoriating liberals yet. "The attack on faith and religion is no less relentless," Romney said. "And tolerance for pornography -- even celebration of it -- and sexual promiscuity, combined with the twisted incentives of government welfare programs, have led to today's grim realities: 68 percent of African-American children are born out of wedlock, 45 percent of Hispanic children, and 25 percent of white children ... A nation built on the principles of the Founding Fathers cannot long stand when its children are raised without fathers in the home."

Then he pointed to the inevitable boogeyman: Europe. "Europe is facing a demographic disaster," he said, a reference to declining birthrates among whites there and an influx of immigrants from elsewhere, especially Muslim countries. "That is the inevitable product of weakened faith in the Creator, failed families, disrespect for the sanctity of human life and eroded morality. Some reason that culture is merely an accessory to America's vitality; we know that it is the source of our strength. And we are not dissuaded by the snickers and knowing glances when we stand up for family values, and morality, and culture."

And finally, it was liberals who caused Romney's decision to suspend his campaign. Romney compared himself to Ronald Reagan in 1976, invoking Reagan's decision to stay in the presidential race through the convention that year to applause. Then he dropped the bombshell: "But there is an important difference from 1976. Today we are a nation at war. And Barack [Obama] and Hillary [Clinton] have made their intentions clear regarding Iraq and the war on terror: They would retreat, declare defeat."

This, Romney said, he could not allow. And so he would be dropping out. "If I fight on, in my campaign, all the way to the convention ... I'd forestall the launch of a national campaign and, frankly, I'd make it easier for Senator Clinton or Obama to win. Frankly, in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror," he said.

Finally, to shouts of "No!" Romney delivered the capper. "I entered this race because I love America," he said. "And because I love America, in this time of war, I feel I have to now stand aside for our party and for our country."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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