The Conservative Political Action Conference kicked off Thursday, complete with a spate of Republican leaders and conservative sweethearts running the gamut from Tea Party-approved to nearly Democrat mainstream GOP.
To the chagrin of some of the more conservative CPAC attendees, Texas Senator Ted Cruz took the CPAC opening spot Thursday morning, speaking while more than a few CPAC visitors at the Gaylord Resort in National Harbor, Md., were still recovering from the previous night’s first-in-town excitement.
Nonetheless, Cruz delivered an impassioned speech to the conservatives in the audience, during which he urged GOP candidates to hold firm to their beliefs even when those ideas run counter to the current preferences of the Party establishment.
In what came off as a shout-out to Republicans who persevere in efforts to repeal Obamacare and make substantial cuts to the Federal budget, even when the Party leadership gives in to alleviate bad press, Cruz lamented the GOP’s adherence to the advice of political consultants in 2006, 2008 and 2012 — all years that brought devastating losses to the conservative cause.
“They say if you stand for principle you lose elections. The way to do it — the smart way, the Washington way — is don’t stand against Obamacare, don’t stand against the debt ceiling, don’t stand against nothing,” he said of the consultant advice. “I want to tell you something — that is a false dichotomy.”
Cruz said that Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney all shared the same major problem in winning conservative votes during Presidential cycles: an inability to successfully distinguish themselves from Democratic candidates.
“ … [W]hen you don’t stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don’t stand for principle, Democrats celebrate,” he said.
To raucous applause, Cruz called for a full repeal to Obamacare after outlining his vision of a winning strategy for the GOP: Abolish the Internal Revenue Service, establish term limits in Congress, expand school choice and do everything possible to end the increasing corruption of government.
When it was his turn to speak, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said that he embraces the ongoing tension between unrelenting conservatives and more moderate members of the GOP. His statement was at least a little surprising, given his No. 2 position to GOP establishment Presidential pick Mitt Romney in 2012 and the current GOP leadership’s outspoken disdain for Tea Party activism.
“Sure, we have our disagreements; and, yes, they can get a little passionate,” Ryan said. “I like to think of it as creative tension.”
The Representative went on to predict that the GOP should expect big victories in 2014, because the Democratic Party is exhausted from battling controversy after controversy brought on by the failed policies of the Barack Obama Administration.
Senator Mike Lee (Utah) delivered a similarly confident message.
“2104 is an important year for conservatives,” he said during his speech. “Yes, the White House agenda is crumbling. President Obama has lost the confidence of the American people.”
Lee went on to implore conservatives in the audience to force candidates to earn their votes by becoming the sort of thoughtful and principled conservatives that the political establishment fears.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal arrived at CPAC with a “heartfelt and sincere” apology… for President Jimmy Carter.
“I spent a lot of 2012 going around the country saying that President Obama was the most liberal and most incompetent president in my lifetime ever since Jimmy Carter. Now having witnessed the events abroad these last several days,” he said, going on to address the former President, “I want to issue a sincere apology. It is no longer fair to say he was the worst President of this great country in my lifetime. President Obama has proven me wrong.”
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida delivered a speech light on immigration talk — something that usually gets him in trouble with conservatives — and focused heavily on the United States’ strength to reduce the power of totalitarian regimes abroad.
“There is only one Nation on Earth capable of rallying and bringing together the free people on this planet to stand up to the spread of totalitarians. The United Nations cannot do this — in fact, they cannot do anything,” Rubio said to laughter.
He went on to note that most of the world’s major geopolitical problems are the result of international tolerance of the existence of totalitarian governments.
The most deafening undertones of the day presented when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (a speaker whose conservatism is up for debate) took the stage. The Governor’s speech so echoed the talking points presented by Washington Representative Cathy-McMorris Rodgers in January’s establishment-approved State of The Union response that it doesn’t take much speculation to believe the Party leadership is grooming him for standard-bearer status — probably for 2016.
“We gotta start talking about what we’re for and not what we’re against,” Christie said, referencing Republicans who are regularly called out by media for unwavering dedication to repealing Obamacare and decreasing government spending, regardless of political consequences.
Of course, at a time when a majority of America’s conservatives are for their elected officials being against Obamacare and government spending, it may take Christie some rhetorical gymnastics to endear himself with the conservative heart of the GOP if he becomes a contender in 2016.