CPAC Stars: Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul

Gingrich Makes Them Roar

Newt Gingrich, former House Speaker and leader of the 1994 Republican Congress, received an enthusiastic welcome at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Saturday afternoon.

A standing room only crowd packed the ballroom of the Omni Shoreham Hotel. Shouting admirers enveloped Gingrich as he made his way down the middle aisle to the tune of thunderous marching music.

The “one man think tank” began his speech by saying CPAC was the “most important event in the conservative movement in a historic time.”

CPAC, Gingrich said, is “part of the dialogue by which a free people govern themselves.” He said he decided to begin studying national security to due the dangerous threat of the Soviet empire, but “because of the courage….of one man…the Soviet empire does not exist today.”

But what would Reagan say to conservative audiences today, during this “moment of historic choice,” Gingrich asked.

Gingrich began with his theme of “real change.” He spoke of his historic “Contract with America” that led to Republicans keeping the United States House of Representatives in 1996. Keeping promises and making real changes is the only way to pull through for Republicans in 2008, he said.

Like many Republicans, Gingrich seemed gloomy about Republican prospects in 2008, citing sobering statistics like the fact that 14.7 million Democrats voted in the Super Tuesday primaries while only 8.3 million Republicans did. 

Gingrich said if this trend continues, it is a “warning of a catastrophic election.” Republicans are losing in online fundraising and among voters: losing any sense of competitive edge.

“We had better change and we had better change now,” Gingrich warned. He mentioned that before Super Tuesday he told Sean Hannity that Republican chances of winning the election were “about as good as the Giants beating the Patriots” in the Superbowl.

Since the Giants took the bowl last Sunday, Gingrich said, perhaps Republicans can still pull it off.

“We are currently nowhere near being ready to do this,” he said, adding that he wasn’t speaking of any specific candidate for President — but about the conservative movement as a whole. “I believe we have to change or expect defeat.”

He maintained that Republicans must become independent from the “Washington fixation” and the “leader fascination” with the presidency by upholding a “decentralized United States.” He also said supporting a candidate while opposing their policy was “totally honorable and legitimate.”

He said politicians have forgotten that conservative politics is different from conservative government — and it is critical for “the conservative movement….to declare itself independent from the Republican Party.”

Conservatives fail to realize how “decisively…entrenched our opponents are” in destroying our side on every issue. This is why, he implied, the conservative movement must come together to defeat them in 2008.

“Any reasonable conservative will — in the end — find they have an absolute requirement to support the Republican nominee for President this fall,” he said. Despite major disagreements on some John McCain policies, Gingrich said he would “rather…have a President McCain we fight with 20% of the time than a President Clinton or President Obama that we fight with 90% of the time.”

He ended by returning to the idea of “real change” — making light of his book’s identical phrase to Barack Obama’s entire campaign. “Real Change” was titled before Obama was running for president but Gingrich maintained there was an irony at the two “change” philosophies.

“Do you want the right change or the wrong change?” He asked.

When 85% of American people believe we have an obligation to protect America and her allies, 75% believe we have obligation to defeat our enemies and 87% believe English should be official language, it’s difficult to say Obama’s “change” is what they really want — considering Obama is against all of these things. Those statistics, cited by Gingrich in his book, include a majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

“If we are the movement of real change by this summer, I suspect we will win one of the cataclysmic elections,” he said. “If there is a clear choice of which change, we will win.”

Ron Paul Finds Following at CPAC

Ron Paul, the unconventional Libertarian-Republican presidential hopeful, rounded out the first day of CPAC. Paul spoke after both John McCain and Mitt Romney. Romney’s speech ended his campaign.

Paul’s speech drew a large group of young conservatives to the Regency Ballroom at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. Paul, who is often compared to Democrat candidate Barack Obama for his ability to draw the youth vote, has stayed afloat in the race with the help of dedicated followers who have helped him raise millions of dollars and flooded the internet with his name.

Paul’s schtick is an old but a solid one. He’s run as a strict constitutionalist — and in fact was introduced as “the only one whose campaign platform is the Constitution of the United States.”

Frontrunner John McCain preceded Paul’s speech so many conference goers stayed the length of the two sessions. The contest is now between McCain, Paul and Mike Huckabee — each of whom have received much criticism from the conservative establishment. Neither Paul nor Huckabee has a chance of catching McCain, the presumptive nominee.

Paul finds support from the Libertarian wing of the conservative movement, but his views on foreign policy — which is to pull troops out now — has riled those who want to win in Iraq. Paul’s claims that America was attacked on 9/11 because “we were over there first” have earned the hardened disposition of many Republicans.

Loud screams and applause followed Paul’s introduction, which was, “Any Dr. Ron Paul fans in the house?” No other presidential candidate was introduced this way. For better or worse, this is a different kind of candidate.

Paul boasted that he was the only presidential candidate — Republican or Democrat — who has never voted for a tax increase.

“We must maximize individual liberty and minimize government power in all that we do,” Paul said, adding that if we followed the rule of law in the constitution, we could “repeal the 16th amendment.”

“Conservatives….have drifted a long way from positions we used to hold — of limited government,” said Paul. “If we continue to do what we are doing, we will have a financial crisis.”

He emphasized our dependence on China and Saudi Arabia, calling the United States the “greatest debtor” in the world. Similarly, he spoke on the de-value of the dollar and said young audiences are interested in monetary politics for the first time in years — because they recognize the “monetizing of debt.”

On his opponents, he reminded the audience that John McCain was a friend of tax raiser and former Senator Tom Daschle, Ted Kennedy on immigration, Russ Feingold on campaign finance, and Al Gore on global warming.

“The answer is found in fiscal conservatism — live within our means,” said Paul. “As long as a government can stir up fear — real or not — people are asked to do one thing –sacrifice their liberties.”

He broached the terrorism subject next, saying that “Since 9/11 — there is absolutely never a need to sacrifice any of your personal liberties to be safe.” Many conservatives agree with the “warrant-less searches” and other intelligence-gathering methods, unlike Paul.

Paul covered a lot of ground, including the Right to Life movement. A medical doctor, Paul’s pro-life stance is not always welcomed in the Libertarian wing, but as on all he issues, he brooks no opposition by those who disagree. “If you are going to protect liberty, you have to protect the life of the unborn just as well,” he said.

A staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, he took the feds to task, saying, “You take the guns from criminals and put the criminals in jail…You don’t take the guns away from law abiding citizens.”

But, here the conservative themes ended. He next claimed America has implemented a “de facto” draft to sustain a war we shouldn’t be fighting. Despite the establishment opposition to his stance on the war, he pointed out that his campaign has received more money from the military in the last quarter than “all the other Republican and Democrat candidates put together.”

John McCain has been criticized for saying America could be in Iraq for “one hundred years” and many promote the idea that we are “fighting over there so we do not have to fight here.” However, Paul believes America is not threatened by any kind of military operation from abroad. He said America has “twice as many weapons as all the other countries put together” and no one will attempt to invade on our soil.

He launched into a typical Paul tirade, claiming Osama bin Laden likes American foreign policy because it is “tremendous incentive for him to raise his group of al-Qaeda.” He reminded the audience that bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were both American allies at one point, but we have wrecked the agenda by “not following our Constitution that gives us no authority to be the policemen of the world.”

He ended with this: “If you promote liberty, liberty promotes peace and peace promotes prosperity.” 

Paul’s campaign has already failed, as he has never even reached the popularity or numbers of Mitt Romney, the candidate many had hoped to defeat John McCain. Romney dropped out on Thursday. Paul will not be the next president or the next Republican nominee (or vice presidential candidate), so it is unclear why he continues this campaign.