Almost all of the Republican presidential candidates who spoke at the 34th annual Conservative Political Action Conference made it a point to praise former President Ronald Reagan, but none more so than former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Giuliani emphasized Reagan’s line “peace through strength” line many times throughout his speech and echoed the California governor’s philosophy of personal responsibility and “optimistic leadership.”
But, the Reagan quote that got the most attention in Giuliani’s speech was the one that emphasized his differences with the conservative base. He said, “My 80 % ally is not my 20 % enemy.”
His differences with the Republican Party hinge mainly on abortion and marriage, but the former mayor didn’t talk about either of these issues specifically. Instead, he alluded to them by telling the conservative crowd:
“You and I have a lot of common beliefs that are the same and some that are different….We all don’t agree on everything. I don’t agree with myself on everything.”
His speech focused on his record combating crime and reducing welfare in New York City. He discussed terror in the context of Congress’ unwillingness to make “tough decisions “and instead pass non-binding resolutions against the war. Then, he said he supported President Bush on the war and spoke of the necessity of the Patriot Act and the electronic surveillance program.
The speech, despite being delivered to a crammed-to-the-walls CPAC crowd, did not contain many applause lines and was called “low-key” by several media reports.
Giuliani came in second on CPAC’s presidential straw poll with 17 % of the vote. Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) who skipped the conference entirely came in fifth with a surprisingly low 12 %. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback received 15 %. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who has not filed any papers to run for President, came in fourth with 14 %.
The winner in the poll was the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, with 21 %. At the conference, he easily had the largest ground crew of student activists who worked the hallways in round the clock shifts to promote his candidacy. One student organizer estimated the campaign had 300 students who were working CPAC for Romney.
Although Romney’s masterful speech was swamped in the press by a comment pundit Ann Coulter made about Democrat presidential candidate John Edward, Romney scored high points with conservatives by making specific promises to reduce the size of federal government.
Mitt took a page from Reagan’s CPAC 1977 speech where the Gipper called for “a new lasting majority,” Romney said the time had come once again for a conservative coalition to step up to the plate.
“Thirty years ago, in challenging times, a great coalition was forged in these halls. Today, we face a new generation of challenges.
“If we in this room lock our arms together, we can forge the political will to rebuild our military might. If we in this room will simply march forward we can propel America’s growth and prosperity to lead to the world. If we in this room lift up our eyes, we will lift the spirit of the nation.
“Now is the time, this is the place, for us to stand together, to lead a great coalition of strength, for our families, for our future, for America. May God bless this great land.”
At CPAC there was a costumed shark named “Flip Mitt” that roamed the convention to criticize Romney’s “flip-flopping on social issues,” but Romney defended his record on marriage and abortion.
He pointedly said:
“I have stood in the center of the battlefield on every major social issue. I fought to preserve our traditional values and to protect the sanctity of life. I vetoed bills, and filed new bills. I enforced a law that banned out-of-state same sex couples from coming to Massachusetts to get married. I went to the court again and again, I testified before Congress for the federal marriage amendment, and I championed our successful drive that collected 170,000 signatures for a citizen ballot initiative to protect marriage. To me, a fundamental principle of democracy is at stake. It is the people who are sovereign in America, not a few folks in black robes. Judges add things that aren’t in the Constitution, and they take away things that are in the Constitution.”
He also won applause for his criticism of the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill.
“McCain-Kennedy isn’t the answer” he said. “As governor, I took a very different approach. I authorized our state police to enforce immigration laws. I vetoed a tuition break for illegals and said no to driver’s licenses. McCain-Kennedy gives benefits to illegals that would cost taxpayers millions. And more importantly, amnesty didn’t work 20 years ago, and it won’t work today.”
Romney gave another punch to McCain in a promise to help abolish the campaign finance laws he engineered with Sen. Russ Feingold.
His speech ended with a determined call to strengthen the nation with a “strong military, strong economy, strong families” that energized the room.
Conservative favorite Rep. Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.) reinforced his image as advocate for a muscular defense system and security hawk in his early Friday morning speech. He devoted a large portion of his speech advocating for a larger industrial military complex.
Hunter said that in with today’s testy political climate a trade policy honed by former President Ronald Reagan was called for.
“We are going to have a new policy when it comes to trade,” he said. Hunter quoted Reagan in saying the United States needed to “Trust, but verify.”
He worried that too many foreign countries were producing our military resources to the detriment of American security.
“As Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, when IED’s started hurting our troops in Iraq and we sent teams to find some high-grade steel [to help protect them]. I found one company that makes it….When a company in Switzerland cut off our smart bombs, only one company in American could make that tiny guidance system for our smart bombs.”
Hunter also spoke of his work securing the border in San Diego. “The reason they came is because everyone in the world has a television set and they know the border is open.”.
“We built that fence in San Diego, a double fence. Before that fence it was no man’s land,” he said.
Now, “by FBI statistics the crime rate fell by more than 50 %,” he told the audience.
“So, let’s build that fence!” he said. The crowd whooped and yelled before rising to give him a standing ovation.
If elected President Hunter promised to pardon Border Agents Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos also earned him a standing ovation.
He ended his speech with another promise to also appoint pro-life conservative judges to the Supreme Court if elected. He said, “America is a great nation because America is a good nation. And our goodness comes from our belief in God and the corresponding belief in human life.”
Hunter’s fellow House member and presidential nomination seeker Rep. Tom Tancredo (R.-Colo.) best known for his tough stance on immigration stepped back a bit from his single-issue focus to take a look at the broader scope of conservatism today.
He denounced what he calls “hyphenated conservatives” such as “common sense conservatives” and “compassionate conservatives.”
“Since when is conservatism itself not enough?” he asked, emphasizing that belief in limited government and traditional values are not to be apologized for. The only adjective Tancredo said he would accept before “conservative” is “unapologetic.”
He said conservatives should not be sorry for winning the Cold War, reducing tax rates and reforming welfare. “Conservatism has nothing to apologize for itself,” Tancredo said. “And it’s got nothing to lose by making itself heard in this campaign.”
He then touched on his strongest issue, illegal immigration, and challenged all presidential hopefuls to insist the President pardon U.S. Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean.
Tancredo urged voters to recognize the presidential hopefuls who use phrases such as “guest worker” instead of “amnesty” and “personally pro-life” instead of “pro-choice.”
“If these phrases look like they [were written by] political handlers,” he said, “that’s because they are.”
In closing, he said its okay that people call him a single-issue candidate if they understand that “my single issue is the survival and success of the conservative movement in America.”
Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback spoke to CPAC Friday afternoon and of the candidates invoked Reagan the least. Rather, he cast himself as a stand out social conservative.
He insisted that “life begins at conception” and promised to appoint judges that would overturn Roe v. Wade. Brownback reaffirmed his belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
Brownback issued a firm call to action at the end of his address: “This is America’s time. Where much is given much is required. We are up to the task.”
Gov. Mike Huckabee gave the most humorous speech of the bunch seeking the Republican nomination. He joked that the 2007 CPAC might be renamed the “Conservative Presidential Anxiety Conference.”
“The theme could be ‘Dude, where is my candidate?’” he cracked.
In his speech before conservative activists, he told a story of growing up and becoming Governor in a predominantly Democrat state. It’s “A lot like being a fire hydrant in a neighborhood full of dogs.”
Before rolling into the red meat of his speech Huckabee said many of the presidential candidates had been taking a “Road to Damascus” on conservative hot button issues.
Some of them taken “more roads to Damascus than a Syrian camel driver,” he said.
He said the belief in family is what separated American from Islamic-fascists. “We would not conceive of strapping a bomb to the belly of a child and sending them to blow themselves up based on the promise that it would send them to martyrdom.”
When he turned to the subject of war, Huckabee adopted a more serious tone. “We are in the midst of World War three” he declared.
“They [terrorists] do so [attack Americans] not from a political perspective, but from a theological one,” Huckabee said. “When that is the basis there can be no negotiation. One does not negotiate with God.”
“When they declare that their sole purpose is the destruction of Israel and anything that resembles us they are not interested in détente” he warned. “They are solely determined for one thing: ultimate and absolute annihilation and destruction.”
Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore took an offensive route in his speech and attacked Romney, Giuliani and McCain by calling then “phony conservatives.” Still, of the candidates he gave the most across-the-board Reaganite speech. His record as governor outshines Romney has he has no past ideological problems and stands now as the best long-shot candidate to come out of CPAC.
“These people who are anointed the front-runners are fine men and served loyally in their positions — but they are not conservatives,” said Gilmore, also a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Gilmore also got praise for reminding listeners that Giuliani was not the only one who shouldered heavy responsibilities after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As Virginia governor, Gilmore also played a critical management role securing the Pentagon.