After the booing of Sen. John McCain, CPAC attendees were attacked by pundits on the right and left for dividing the Republican Party on its choice of Presidential nominees. But if Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex), had been more of a featured item at CPAC, maybe some of that criticism could have been avoided.
Hensarling’s speech came right after Romney’s withdrawal announcement, but his words of reassurance on the nominee issue briefly united the thinned and raucous crowd.
“When our nominee is chosen, we will be there and we will enthusiastically support the nominee of our party,” said Hensarling. “Because I can tell you, our nominee, no matter what his worst day may be, he will be a thousand times better than Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama on their best day.”
That moment and others proved that the crowd was hungry for the boyish Republican Study Committee Chairman despite his being sandwiched between speeches by Romney and McCain.
“I guess I feel like a small bit of indigestion between two main courses,” he said.
Hensarling’s three-pronged address sounded something like a military briefing as it methodically progressed from radical Islam, to government reduction, to religious freedom. The succeeding points of border security, free trade, and of course, congressional earmarks were clearly thrown in as bonus items.
They were all themes already spoken about earlier in the day, but were still powerfully appealing to the conservative crowd.
“This federal government spends $24,000 per household,” the Congressman told the audience. “How many of you think you’re getting your $24,000 out of your federal government?”
The crowd booed.
Henserling called Al-Quaida a “major battlefront,” and criticized Democrats for continued efforts to cut funding for the wars in the Middle East. He mentioned his 2 children as reasons why he was committed to the war on terrorism.
Next up was government waste. Hensarling cited figures indicating that Americans were currently more confident in Democrats than Republicans to cut the size and scope of government, but reassured the crowd that those sentiments did not represent reality.
“When it comes to spending, Republicans are rank amateurs compared to Democrats,” the anti-earmark darling said.
Finally, Hensarling warned of the threat of a Godless nation.
This threat “comes from increasing the public square of our society, and then removing every sign of God from that public square.”
It was similar to the religious theme of an earlier statement, when Hensarling claimed that Romney made his decision to withdraw from the presidential race has “out of pure love of God and country.”
The bonus items included statements that reinforced Hensarling’s compassionate but conservative stance on immigration, saying, “because our hearts go out to someone does not mean we excuse illegal behavior.” He called trade an “issue of freedom,” and as he has done before, he called for Republicans to have an earmark moratorium.
“Some will try and lessen the importance of earmark reform, saying it’s only 25-30 billion. I pray I’m never in Washington so long that I can pray that 25-30 billion is just a little bit of money,” he said.
The information was applauded, but again, did not fall on many ears.
“I felt kind of sorry for the guy,” said Ben Birnbaum, a senior at Cornell University, who took a train down to CPAC for the weekend, “Its like a good no name band playing in between the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.”