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Mitt Romney: 'Gosh, I kick myself'

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts and former 2012 Republican presidential nominee.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney offered a full-throated defense of conservative economic principles Wednesday, saying that he faults himself for not adequately conveying those ideas during his failed presidential campaign four years ago.

Romney, the Republican nominee in 2012, spoke in Washington D.C. at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event, laying out the key challenges he sees facing the U.S. government, and bemoaning what he characterized as inaction at the federal level. But the most revealing portion of Romney's address was his discussion of conservative messaging around income inequality — a topic that has been a driving force in presidential politics during the campaign.

"We (conservatives) know what it takes to actually raise wages — this is, as you know, people on the other side of the aisle have made that a centerpiece of their campaigns, which is the idea of income inequality and the lack of progress for middle income families," Romney said. "And it's something which, gosh, I kick myself as a Republican nominee for president not having done a better job communicating this."

Part of that communication breakdown may have come because of the differences between the primary races and the general election, he suggested.

"When you speak, as you do in a primary, to people who are strong Republicans and conservatives, you begin to speak in shorthand because they've heard the kind of remarks that I'd make, they've heard it time and again, and they sort of understand what you mean," the former governor said. "So when I'm talking about making America the most attractive place in the world for entrepreneurs, and when I want to make America a terrific place for small business and big business, when I want to see corporations thrive and grow in America, what my primary audience hears is something which they can connect with."

General election constituencies, however, are less primed for that economic theory.

"But the audience at large, they think the reason I'm talking about business is because all I care about is rich people and business leaders. Look, rich people and business people do well whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge. The real people who suffer when business is leaving or not successful are the people in the middle class. If you want to get wages up in America for middle income Americans, there's only one way I know how to do that in real terms ... by having more businesses want to hire more people," Romney said.

The former GOP nominee — who has notably criticized Donald Trump, his party's current standard-bearer — then issued an argument against those who had accused him of disinterest in the middle class.

"The reason I'm a conservative is not because of the 1 percent or the corporate bosses. The reason I'm an American is for all the people in this country and recognizing that if business is thriving and growing, it will create more jobs, raise wages of our people, allow us to care for our seniors, get a better education for our kids, and allow us to have the kind of military that can defend American interests around the world."