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Perry, Paul & Huckabee at CPAC 2014

Gen. John Bell Hood, another Texan that could get a crowd moving.

Gen. John Bell Hood, another Texan that could get a crowd moving.

Gen. Robert E. Lee used Texas infantry as his reliable shock troops during the Civil War. If Hood’s division couldn’t drive the Yankees from a position, then no troops could.

Evidently CPAC schedulers are of the same opinion.

On both of the first two days of the conservative conference Texas speakers were used to soften up the crowd for all the speakers that followed.

On Thursday it was Sen. Ted Cruz (R–TX) and on Friday it was Gov. Rick Perry (R–TX).

Perry hit the stage cold to the tune of AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’ and did so without anyone to introduce him. Perry is now sporting black nerd glasses that make him look more intellectual without softening him up so much that he looks like pajama boy in the Obamacare ad.

The governor began by stating that on the battlefield of ideas “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.” Then there was a long pause, which started to produce debate flashbacks for me, but it proved to be just a slow Internet connection.

Besides being another step on the stairway to political redemption, the speech was a rousing defense of federalism. Perry says for the solution to the problems facing the country we should not look to Washington, but instead we should look to the states that “are laboratories of innovation.”

And the states provide a contrast between two visions. In the blue vision the state “plays an increasing roll in the lives of citizens.” Taxes are high, public employee pensions are out of control and jobs are leaving.

Perry contrasted that smothering philosophy with the red state vision where “freedom of the individual comes first and the reach of government is limited.” There taxes are low, spending is low and opportunity is high.

Then Perry did something surprising. On Friday when Chris Christie spoke the examples were mostly about him and about New Jersey. But that’s not what Perry did. He started off by giving other Republican governors credit for their good ideas and successful records.

He mentioned Nikki Haley in South Carolina, Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Rick Scott in Florida. Then Perry proceeded to list accomplishments particular to each.

Perry was halfway through his speech before he even mentioned Texas. He spoke first of the common denominator among all red state leaders, “Conservative governors who know freedom of the individual must come before the power of the state…the contrast is crystal clear.” He then used an example from the world of transportation. “If you rent a U–Haul to move your company it costs twice as much to go from San Francisco to Austin as it does the other way around, because you can’t find enough trucks to flee the Golden State.”

Only then did Perry say, “Let’s pick a large red state, shoot let’s pick Texas” as he began listing his accomplishments. This is one of the reasons Perry is so likable: He doesn’t appear to take himself too seriously. He, in contrast to Obama, is not The Great I Am.

His speech was full of humor, substance and energy. Perry has been on the comeback trail now for two years and he’s making progress. His demeanor and energy level is in marked contrast to that of the disastrous 2012 presidential campaign.

I have no way of knowing if he’s a terror to his staff or if he kicks the family dog, but you certainly can’t tell it from his personal appearances. If it wasn’t for his squishiness on illegals, I’d almost be ready to vote for Perry today.

I can’t say that for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Politically Huckabee is simply George Bush who can tell a joke. There are many things I admire about Huckabee: His faith, his conservative social values and his sense of humor in particular. But as president he would be spending at least as much as Bush and I see no indication that he’s ever seriously considered putting Uncle Sam on a diet.

And speaking of diets, Huckabee’s is evidently not going too well. In stark contrast to his former fit self, now if the occasion arose Huckabee could fill in quite nicely as Chris Christie’s body double.

Huckabee’s speech began on a discordant note. He was given the same 10 minutes as Rick Perry, but he wasted some of the time complaining about only getting 10 minutes. In contrast to Perry’s upbeat and dynamic address, Huckabee came off as slightly petulant.

His speech was structured around a series of “I knows” that included, “I know the IRS is a criminal organization. I know that life begins at conception. I know there’s a God and this nation would not exist if He had not been the midwife of its birth.”

He even obliquely addressed homosexual marriage when he quoted Mrs. Billy Graham who said, “If God does not bring fiery judgment on America, God will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Huckabee concluded with a final “I know” that brought back memories of his rocky beginning when he said, “I know my time is up and I must go.”

Diet jokes aside, he simply wasn’t a heavyweight on Day Two and if Huckabee is indeed running for president in 2016 this speech didn’t help his case.

Sen. Rand Paul (R–KY) was the other major league presidential candidate speech of the day. He had double the time allotted to Perry, yet I don’t think his speech had the same impact. They are two entirely different personalities. Paul comes off as somewhat remote and clinical when he speaks. He certainly says the right things and delivers a polished speech, but he doesn’t have the infectious enthusiasm of Rick Perry.

Personally I wonder how many of the reporters who pronounced Chris Christie as rehabilitated after the response to his speech the day before were around for Paul’s. The packed room was on its feet and cheering before the senator could say a word. Christie on the other hand had a much smaller crowd and response was polite until very late in his performance.

Paul’s speech was about liberty but it was also about sending a message to the Mitch McConnells, John McCains, Lindsey Grahams and other establishment RINOs. Paul asked the audience to “Imagine a time when our great country is governed by the Constitution. You may think I’m talking about electing Republicans, but I’m not. I’m talking about electing lovers of liberty.”

“It isn’t good enough to pick the lesser of two equals,” Paul explained. “We must elect men and women of principle and conviction and action who will lead us back to greatness. There is a great and tumultuous battle underway not for the Republican Party but for the entire country.

Then in a challenge to elected leaders and party supporters alike, Paul asked, “The question is will we be bold and proclaim our message with passion or will we be sunshine patriots retreating when we come under fire?”

Paul then focused on the NSA, data mining and the entire security mindset of the government, which he believes is dangerous. He referenced the Sons of Liberty from the Revolution who stood up to King George and predicted, “The Sons of Liberty would today call out to the president. ‘We will not submit. We will not trade our liberty for security. Not now. Not ever.’”

Getting down to cases with an audience that skewed toward youth and tech savvy, Paul explained, “If you have a cell phone, you are under surveillance. I believe what you do on your cell phone is none of their damn business.”

His other examples of government overreach in the name of security included detention without a trial, individual warrants applied to a class of people, credit card data collection, cell phone metadata and other violations of the 4th Amendment.

The senator stated flatly “Government unrestrained by law becomes nothing short of tyranny.” Then he used Daniel Webster to show the fight for liberty has been an ongoing struggle that must be continued today. “Daniel Webster anticipated our modern day saviors who wish to save us from too much freedom. He wrote: ‘Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It’s hardly too strong to say the Con was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions.’”

Paul wasn’t giving so much a speech, as he was Peter the Hermit asking the young people to join in a crusade. He has passionate ideas and beliefs, but Paul’s delivery is simply not as winning as that of Perry. One can be serious without being sepulchral.

It will be very interesting to follow the arc of both campaigns as I see Perry being a bigger threat to Paul than the other Texan, Ted Cruz.

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