NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Some think Mitt Romney was the wrong candidate. Some think Republicans have to better pitch their principles. And the failed Republican presidential candidate himself admits making mistakes, but declined to share what they were. At the Conservative Political Action Convention, everyone is thinking about what happened in 2012.
"We may not have carried the day last November 7, but we haven't lost the country we love, and we haven't lost our way," Romney said to a packed ballroom Friday.
It may be that the candidate still can't get over the shock of losing a presidency he was convinced he would win, but other conservatives are ready to look back at what they think happened.
"He did a better job than any of the other possible candidates would have done,' said Michael Barone, senior political analyst at the Washington Examiner, during a panel examining the election.
But Barone added that had Romney been better about showing compassion for those suffering under the Obama economy or softened his tone on immigration during the primary, he would have fared better.
Michael Ramirez, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist at Investors Business Daily said, "We need bolder candidates."
Many conservatives, despite the fact that Romney was a CPAC straw-poll four out of the last six years, felt that they would have won the White House if they had nominated a more bona fide Republican than the former Massachusetts governor who had wavered in the past on issues like abortion and healthcare.
John Fund, senior editor at the American Spectator, said given what blue collar Americans were suffering through in the sluggish economy, the GOP would have been more successful spreading a populist message rather than nominating a man worth $250 million.
"Romney was the antithesis of a populist candidate and I think that hurt," Fund said. "Not going after 'Too Big to Fail,' not going after the banks, not going after corporate welfare, not going after populist voters – this is the party of the fat cats."
Others noted the well-trodden campaign failings, citing a botched turnout operation, poor allotment of resources and bad messaging.
One Republican consultant who was involved in Romney's election effort said the campaign also hurt itself by being "unimaginative" and "cloistered." By isolating themselves from outside voices, the campaign decision-making team ended up miscalculating strategy.
The closest Romney came to self-reflection during his first speech since his concession address, was to say his loss would best serve the party as preparation against future GOP failures.
"We've lost races before, and in the past, those setbacks prepared us for larger victories," he said. "It is up to us to make sure that we learn from my mistakes, and from our mistakes, so that we can win the victories those people and this nation depend upon."