Friday at CPAC began with a kickoff address by former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Those of you that felt Huckabee was looking a bit gaunt after his 110–pound weight loss can stop worrying. This year’s model is significantly larger than last year’s, although it does not approach the 300 plus pounds he reached at his peak.
Huckabee initially focused on the Obama administration’s recent decision to force Catholic hospitals to provide contraception and abortion services. “I want to say a great big thank you to President Obama. You have done more than any other person in the Republican field to unite this party. Thank you for doing what none of us has done.”
He went on to say that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is his nominee for person of the year. “John F. Kennedy once said that we are all Berliners. Thanks to President Obama, today we are all Catholics.”
Huckabee echoed Thursday’s speakers that characterized the decision not as a question of providing medical services, but as a direct violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution, explaining that when we devalue a life that is unborn, we ultimately devalue a life that is born.
Republicans policies also came in for criticism. Huckabee reminded the packed auditorium that he was one of the few that opposed the TARP bailout in the closing days of the Bush administration. His advice to Republicans was to apologize to America for creating the idea that it’s okay to bail companies out of the consequences of their own bad decisions. “Too big to fail also contains the mindset that some are too small to matter,” he explained.
Huckabee concluded by saying that although he had not endorsed any candidate in this year’s Republican race, voters can be assured that whoever wins the nomination will be more conservative than Obama and deserves their vote in November.
If you want a mobile Vice Presidential candidate who is not teleprompter dependent and has not expressed strong feelings regarding the very poor, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is just your man.
McDonnell startled the audience and the some of the CPAC technical staff when he began walking to and fro across the stage during his Friday morning address. Much of McDonnell’s speech obliquely stressed his Vice Presidential qualifications by running through his resume and focusing on the record of his administration.
A record that includes overcoming the deficit left by outgoing Democrat Gov. and current US Senate candidate Tim Kaine, an unemployment rate two points below the national average and a return to the spending levels of 2007,
McDonnell characterized the Presidential election as a battle to preserve the American Dream. The choice between a vision of Constitutionally limited government and a constantly expanding federal government.
“Today we have a surplus of rhetoric and a deficit of results in the United States,” McDonnell stressed.
His solution is ROC: Results Oriented Conservatives.
In contrast to much of the discussion of illegal immigration, McDonnell reminded that his family came to the US from Ireland. And now, 100 years later, he sits in the governor’s office holding the same position held by Thomas Jefferson.
Which, come to think of it, also applies to the office of Vice President.
Bookended by sweater vests, Rick Santorum and most of his family followed Bob McDonnell on the CPAC stage. The former Pennsylvania senator elected to stay behind the podium for his speech, which was sound planning. If the entire Santorum family had followed him around the stage it would have looked like the great suburban migration West of the 50’s.
Santorum declared, “Conservatism did not fail our country. Conservatives failed conservatism.” Specifically by adopting the philosophy that winning is more important than staying true to your principles. But that is in the past, for the future Santorum said, “We’ve learned our lesson. We will no longer abandon and apologize for the principles that made this country great.”
Santorum directly addressed the race for the GOP nomination by downplaying the affect of money, of which he has little, and stressing the power of contrasts with Obama. “We aren’t going to win with money. We’re going to win with contrasts, by making Barack Obama and his failed policies the issue in this race.”
Naturally, Santorum believes selecting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney over him will throw away this advantage. He explained to the audience that Mitt Romney is on the wrong side of Obamacare, carbon cap & trade and Wall Street bailouts. Therefore, with Romney as the nominee the GOP throws away its most powerful issues.
Santorum continued his embrace of the TEA party, although with the family on stage, too it was more of a group hug. “The TEA party is not the wings of the Republican Party, we are the Republican Party.”
Four years ago Mitt Romney ended his campaign during a speech at the CPAC conference, this year he wants to use a CPAC speech to revive it. After suffering three consecutive primary losses to Rick Santorum, Romney could use a strong rebound speech and potential straw poll victory before an audience filled with many people who are skeptical of his conservatism and commitment to the cause.
Romney described the Obama administration as “last gasp of liberalism’s great failure.” And he urged the participants to “reaffirm what it means to be conservative.”
The bedrock part of that belief involves a reverence for the founding document, “Conservatives aren’t just proud to cling to our guns and religion, we are also proud to cling to our Constitution,” Romney declared to enthusiastic applause.
He also addressed some of the criticisms leveled at him by Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. One of the biggest applause lines of the afternoon came when he said he’s been successful in business and he’s not ashamed to say so.
Romney visited his time as Massachusetts governor reminding listeners that he balanced the budget, vetoed 800 bills, cut taxes and he supported the rights of Catholic organizations to arrange adoptions that supported their religious beliefs without interference from state government. He then assured the audience, “I’ve served in government, but I didn’t inhale. I’m still a business guy.”
Romney also assured the audience that his presidency will be pro–life from “Day One.”
During his introduction of Romney, American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas suggested the audience apply his family’s test to each of the presidential candidates before making their decision: Does he share your values, is he competent to lead the greatest nation on earth and is he capable of beating Barack Obama?
It’s a test Mitt Romney hopes this speech will help him pass.
For Newt Gingrich the presidential campaign is a four–letter word and that word is BOLD. Bold ideas. Bold plans. Bold solutions. Bold politics. And did I say bold?
Newt has plans, too and they are Bold.
“When the conservative movement offers bold solutions, it wins decisively. I want to talk about bold solutions to get America working again.”
He intends for the entire GOP congressional establishment to campaign with him this fall, which will require a large bus and a huge block of rooms on the cruise ship. And in the days between the swearing in of the new Congress and Newt’s Bold presidential oath of office, he has a to–do list for John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. Newt expects both houses to pass bills repealing Obamacare, Sarbanes–Oxley and Dodd–Frank.
So in the first twenty minutes of his new administration he can expunge 40 percent of the late Obama administration. Then Gingrich can really get to work with Bold executive orders: approve the Keystone pipeline, move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and reinstate the Mexico City policy banning the expenditure of tax dollars for abortions in other countries.
Then he plans to break for lunch.
Gingrich has special scorn for the shadowy “Republican establishment” that is doing its best to undermine his campaign. He explained, “All of you have seen the Wall Street and Republican establishment pile on me, because this campaign is a mortal threat. We intend to change Washington, not accommodate it.”
The former Speaker then used the fringe candidate’s favorite excuse for a failure to build a complete campaign: “We don’t have the money, but we do have a plan.” And when the fall campaign begins it will feature “the paycheck president versus a food stamp president.”
Evidently the plan also includes a larger role for Callista. In contrast to every other presidential candidate at the conference, Newt had Callista make his introduction, which may be his idea for a Bold introduction, filled with Bold anecdotes and Boldly different from all other introductions. But after watching it, note to Newt: don’t use Callista to warm up the crowd.
It’s not Bold — it’s boring.