First, Romney seemed to try too hard to remind the crowd that he is, in fact, a man of the Right; he used the word "conservative" or some variant 24 times in the speech. To some ears, it sounded as if Romney was trying to prove his credentials simply by calling himself a conservative over and over.
...Second, Romney's explanation of his path to conservatism had nothing specifically conservative about it. He began by joking that he never read Burke or Hayek in college. "When I was your age, you could have told me they were infielders for the Detroit Tigers," Romney told the students in the crowd. Instead, Romney said, "My path to conservatism came from my family, my faith, and my life's work."
But the problem with Romney's my-life-is-conservative argument is that there are liberal Democrats who also get married, stay married, have children and do well in business. One can do all those things and support higher taxes, a more intrusive government, and a weak foreign policy.
And then, as Jonathan Martin writes at Politico, the "severely" thing:
Mitt Romney wanted to use his CPAC speech Friday to allay concerns about his candidacy on the Republican right, but with one ad-libbed word he reinforced conservative fears that he’s not one of them.
“I was a severely conservative Republican governor,” Romney told the annual gathering.
The response was immediate.
“I have never heard anybody say, ‘I’m severely conservative,’” Rush Limbaugh noted on his show.
“That didn’t get a lot of applause,” firebrand Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) observed with a tight smile.