We’re approaching the midpoint of CPAC 2013, and we’ve heard from about half of the people expected to be contenders in 2016 (at least, those who are on the agenda — and no, Donald Trump isn’t one of the people I have in mind). We can begin to see the ground these potential candidates are beginning to stake out.
The first of these possible candidates was Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Rubio covered the waterfront of long-held conservative beliefs, on both fiscal and social issues. “Our challenge,” he said, “is to create an agenda applying our principles.” The broad outlines of such an agenda from him mostly included conventionally conservative stuff. If there is one theme he wants to own, I’d say it is American exceptionalism.
He cited a different book: “The China Dream,” recently written by a Chinese army colonel. The gist, Rubio said, is that “China’s goals should be to surpass the United States as the world’s preeminent military and economic power,” and that the 21st century should pit China and America in “a race to see who should become the champion country to lead world progress.”
It was in that context that Rubio responded to criticism that the GOP was not promoting any new ideas (as opposed to those new-thinking Democrats who are still pursuing long-time goals such as universal publicly funded health care and gun control) by citing the hope America offers to the rest of the world, such as his parents who immigrated from Cuba.
“We don’t need a new idea,” he said. “There is an idea. It’s called America, and it still works. You want proof that it still works, look around the world today. Who are they copying? Not the former Soviet Union. Not Russia. They’re not even copying China. They’re copying us. They may claim to hate us, but they sure would like to be us.”
Immediately following Rubio was Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentuckian and son of former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul. He took the stage to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and wearing a sports coat, tie and blue jeans. He was dressed like some college professors I had, and he launched into a constitutional semi-lecture that began with a discussion of his now-famous, 13-hour filibuster on the Senate floor about the Obama administration’s drone policies.
“We need to jealously guard all our liberties,” he said, before turning his message to one of those voter groups Republicans know they have to be more successful with.
“The Facebook generation can detect falseness and hypocrisy a mile away. I know, I have kids,” he said. “They are the core, though, of the leave-me-alone coalition. They doubt Social Security will be there for them. They worry about jobs and rent and student loans. They want leaders who won’t feed them a lot of crap or sell them short.
“Ask the Facebook generation whether we should put a kid in jail for the nonviolent crime of drug use, and you’ll hear a resounding ‘no.’ Ask the Facebook generation if they want to bail out too-big-to-fail banks with their tax dollars, and you’ll hear a ‘hell no.’ There is nothing constitutional about bailing out Wall Street. Likewise, there is nothing ‘progressive’ about loans to billionaires to build solar panels.”
As you might have expected, Paul is going to try to pull the GOP in a more libertarian direction. “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered,” he summed it up. His speech didn’t receive as much consistent applause as Rubio’s did, but he had the audience in his hand by the end. Could the same thing happen in the 2016 primary?
Friday brought Rep. Paul Ryan to the conference, and the 2012 vice presidential candidate received a very warm welcome. As you might expect, the House Budget Committee chairman focused a lot on budget matters, but he wanted to talk not just about the numbers but the reasons balancing the budget is important.
“A debt crisis would be more than an economic event,” Ryan argued. “It would be a moral failure. By cheapening our currency, government would cheat us of our just rewards.”Even now we are hurting American working families. By living beyond our means, the government is sending us a message. It is saying, if you plan ahead, if you make sacrifices for your kids, if you saved, you’re a sucker. It is brazenly stealing from our children and from young adults, and it has to stop.”
He argued for restoring government to a more appropriate size, one that allows it to do certain things well while leaving other things to the people.
“We need to make room for community, for that vast middle ground between the government and the people,” he said. “They don’t find common ground through grim isolation or government fiat,” but through the connections they make themselves.
Later Friday and Saturday, we’ll hear from Rick Santorum (hey, he finished second last year, which was yet another year the GOP nomination went to the “next guy in line”), Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. I’ll post thoughts about their speeches afterward.
– By Kyle Wingfield