Today I come to CPAC 2008 to speak not about conservatism’s past, but its future.
Because, despite the obituary that is being written for conservatism in this election, I believe this movement will define the Republican Party for generations to come.
And, as the theme of this conference attests, the future of freedom and the future of conservatism is forward. We are past the time where we can indulge in woulda, coulda, shoulda. We must look forward.
Though the odds are still 50/50 on who the eventual Democratic nominee will be, the odds are 100 percent it will be a liberal: Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.
And when I think of Hillary or Barack in the Oval Office, I have to tell you, I feel like that squirrel in the Super Bowl tire commercial.
Conservatives don’t have to agree on everything. But we do need to agree on one thing: There cannot be a President Obama or another President Clinton in the White House.
I know some of you are considering sitting this one out. I understand. Our disappointments are deep, and they are legitimate. There are issues on which we are deeply divided. And the events of the past 24 hours have left many of you even more conflicted.
But not liking the choice is not the same as having no choice. In this election, we will have a clear choice for the American people:
• There will be a choice between a candidate who vows to defend this nation and support our military, and a candidate publicly committed to defeat, retreat, and appeasement.
• There will be a choice between a candidate who promises fiscal restraint and lower taxes; and a candidate who fervently vows to take more and spend more.
• There will be a choice between a candidate who promises to protect and defend the sanctity of human life and one who will work every day to promote abortion on demand at home and abroad.
Those are the stakes.
Men and women of the conservative movement, we stand on the precipice of a national election that will define America’s place in the world, the federal government’s place in our lives and the very nature of life and family.
As this national contest begins anew, conservatives need to renew our commitment to the American ideals that have become ours alone to defend.
This movement and our candidates must stand for life and liberty and limited government.
And make no mistake about it, the future of conservatism begins with a commitment to the unalienable right to life. Without the right to life there is no right to liberty or property.
Our candidate must be willing to stand for the unborn and commit to appointing justices to the Supreme Court who will consign Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history.
And our candidates must be willing to deny federal funding to any organization that promotes abortion at home and abroad. The largest abortion provider in America should not also be the largest recipient of federal funding under Title X. It is time to end all federal funding to Planned Parenthood of America.
And the future of conservatism demands that we be willing to fiercely defend our liberties at home and abroad. Whether the national media will ever admit it, freedom is winning in Iraq. The Democrats have a new strategy. They have added denial to their agenda of retreat and defeat.
Our candidates must take the fight over Iraq to the opposition and tell the American people the truth. Thanks to our Commander in Chief and tens of thousands of our men and women in uniform, the surge is working, Al Qaeda is on the run, and Operation Iraqi Freedom is a widening American success.
And the future of conservatism demands that we stand for the traditional definition of marriage. Marriage was ordained by God and instituted in law. It is the glue of the American family and the safest harbor to raise children. Conservatives must defend traditional marriage by passing the Federal Marriage Amendment.
And the future of conservatism demands that we oppose censorship, whether it takes the form of the so-called Fairness Doctrine or takes the form of Campaign Finance Reform. Our freedom to speak and listen to who we want when we want is a blood-bought American right. We must not permit the Democrats to bring back the so-called Fairness Doctrine.
Talk radio makes up the signal battalion of our movement. As Democrats pledge to return censorship to the airwaves of America, conservatives should know the next President of the United States can restore the so-called Fairness Doctrine without an act of Congress. Our candidates must stand for freedom, reject the censorship of the left and commit to end the Fairness Doctrine once and for all.
And the future of conservatism demands that we renew our commitment to limited government, fiscal discipline and reform. Our candidates must expose the Democrats’ plan to pass the largest tax increase in American history, explode government spending and over-regulate our economy in the name of climate change.
As we expose their big government plans, we must rededicate ourselves to a balanced federal budget that lives within its means by instituting spending discipline and pro-growth tax relief. We must renew our commitment to limited government by embracing entitlement reform built on Lincoln’s adage that government not do for a man what he can and should do for himself.
We must again be the party of reform, we must end earmarking as we know it, embrace an immediate earmark moratorium and offer the American people a clear choice between the spending as usual Democrats and Republicans who have rediscovered their enthusiasm for the Contract with America.
To move forward, conservatives must recognize that Republican candidates win when they articulate conservative values. From our nominee for president on down, Republicans who win are Republicans who embrace life, liberty and limited government.
When we embrace conservative values, Americans embrace our party.
But to go forward, we need a champion who will lead our party to a victory for our values in 2008.
And now that Republican voters have essentially selected a nominee, many are asking, “What are conservatives to do?”
In the race for the nomination, I appreciate so much the pro-family stands of Governor Mike Huckabee. And let me take the opportunity to commend Mitt Romney on running a brilliant, conservative campaign.
But now I direct my comments to the frontrunner in this race, Senator John McCain.
It may come as a surprise to many of you, but I’ve gotten to know Senator McCain over the past few years. Despite our differences on some key issues, I’ve worked with Senator McCain: opposing runaway federal spending under Republican control, supporting the president’s decision to surge forces in Iraq and we’ve even found time to do a little shopping together.
Let me be clear: I did not endorse the Senator from Arizona. We have clashed on the issues too many times for that.
But let me say from my heart, based on what I’ve personally seen of Senator McCain from the floor of Congress to the “watchfires of circling camps” in Baghdad and Ramadi, I could support Senator McCain for President of the United States. But he’s going to have to take a little advice from a friend.
Senator McCain, after that marvelous speech at CPAC yesterday, we know you hear us. And that you know you need us. The sentiments you expressed from this podium are a very welcome start.
They spoke not of mere concessions or accommodations to the conservative viewpoint, but were the positions we all hold dear.
But you know your conservative base is divided. Reluctant support for the sake of the party is not enough. In order to win, you need from the Republican base more than a half-hearted agreement to trudge to the polls and hold their noses.
You need enthusiasm. Foot stomping, flag-waving, crawl-over-broken-glass-to-vote enthusiasm.
The kind we had for Reagan.
Senator McCain, as much as it would please you to have that kind of enthusiasm from conservatives, it would please conservatives even more to have reason to give it. We long to once again feel that authentic spirit of hope and optimism for our county.
And I have to say, when you spoke yesterday, there were times that I sensed it was possible.
Your commitment to our troops and winning the war on terror was, of course, never at issue, but your unequivocal pledges on other conservative points are what hearten us most.
You promised a clear conservative approach to government:
• To make the tax cuts permanent
• To fight big government spending
• To veto any bill with earmarks and roll back entitlement programs
• To secure our borders first
• To appoint judges who will interpret the law and not make it
• To stand without apology for the sanctity of life
And you told us that you are not in the habit of making promises you don’t intend to keep.
These are the specifics that conservatives need to hear and keep hearing.
But now it’s time for deeds. You can begin keeping those promises today.
Whether this party comes together to support you as the nominee depends on your actions. So I offer you this challenge:
If you will continue to run on conservative issues and continue to build a solid conservative team and ticket, we can and will support you and work our hearts out to elect you as the 44th President of the United States.
You’ve claimed the Reagan mantle. Show us you know how to use it.
Senator McCain, if you continue to embrace the right, the right will embrace you.
And let me add, to my fellow conservatives here at CPAC and throughout the nation: If we are to ask this from our nominee, we must be willing to accept it when it comes.
If we reject out-of-hand the good faith offerings of the candidates now as too little, too late, we destroy all chance for the candidate to make good on them.
Will we disagree with a President John McCain? You bet.
One year in the minority in Congress has taught me that I would rather be occasionally arguing with a friend on the inside than standing on the outside watching everything we fought for at home and abroad being dismantled before our eyes.
Most of us cherish the opportunity to lift high the Reagan standard. Yet we cannot just emulate the policies of Reagan without appreciating the politics of Reagan. Ronald Reagan knew when to fight and when to join ranks.
After a bitter and bruising battle with Gerald Ford, he accepted defeat with grace and kept his eye on the future as he endorsed the moderate Ford. While he did not give up the fight, as evidenced by his stand for a party platform that was “a banner of bold, unmistakable colors, with no pastel shades” he also recognized the necessity of unity when he stood before GOP delegates and said:
“This is our challenge and this is why here in this hall tonight, better than we have ever done before, we have got to quite talking to each other and about each other and go out and communicate to the world the message they are waiting for.”
Make no mistake about it, these are challenging days for the Grand Old Party, but I still have hope.
My hope is built on a belief in the innate wisdom and goodness of the American people and on my confidence that even still, God governs in the affairs of men.
When I think of the unknowable perils that await our nation in the 21st Century, the rise of communist China, the threat of Islamic extremism, the crushing weight of public debt and the collapse of the family, I believe with all my heart that the times and providence have called forth the right man to lead our nation “for such a time as this.”
This past week, I spent some time on the couch in the home of the Lahmann family, the modest home of another soldier called to duty not in public life but in Iraq.
Growing up in rural Indiana, Johnny Lahmann was an exceptional young man and the joy of his mom, Linda and dad, Alan. Johnny was handy with tools and dreamed of becoming an auto mechanic. He took his first deer when he was just 10 years old.
After 9-11, Johnny responded to the call of duty, joined the Army and deployed to Bayji, Iraq. Specialist Lahmann served in the 59th Engineering Company, 20th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade, part of the Army III Corp based in Fort Hood, Texas.
On December 10, 2007, at the hands of the enemy, he fell. The small army locker in the living room and bittersweet memories are all that remains of his life in the home of his youth.
When Johnny came home, his parents marveled as thousands lined the streets of Richmond, Indiana. His Dad, Alan, told me Tuesday, "I have never seen anything like that in my entire life.”
And neither had we.
Johnny Lahmann was a hero because Johnny Lahmann was a soldier.
America called Johnny to be a soldier and, as has always been the case in the history of this nation, the soldier stepped forward and saved the nation.
To go forward in these troubling times, Republican voters, and no less providence, have given us a soldier.
Let us seize upon this moment in history.
Let us renew our commitment to life, liberty and limited government and in so doing let us help the soldier unite this army and do everything in our power to see him to the presidency.
Nothing less than the future of freedom may hang in the balance.